By Alex P. Vidal
“For there is no defense for a man who, in the excess of his wealth, has kicked the great altar of Justice out of sight.”—Aeschylus
I DON’T believe that the 264-1-3 (yes-no-abstain) votes registered by members of the House of Representatives on August 16 to expel fellow member, Arnulfo “Arnie” Teves Jr. of Third District, Negros Oriental, was a right decision.
(The number was originally 265, but former Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez, incumbent representative of Davao del Norte’s first district, had reportedly asked House officials to change the vote count to reflect his “no” vote.)
It should be 1-264-3 (a reverse) or 0-268-0 (all nay).
Or they should not have agreed whether to vote for Teves’ expulsion.
In my opinion, the expulsion was not only harsh, but also unfair and undemocratic.
“Unfair” because the basis for his eviction was hogwash: “Disorderly behavior and for violation of the Code of Conduct of the House of Representatives” (for dancing in the social media wearing shorts? Do all TikTokers have to do it in a dress code?).
The House panel had also cited as basis of Teves’ expulsion his continued absence without leave and his pursuit of political asylum in Timor-Leste. It said such acts are as good as abandonment of public office.
Instead of expulsion, why not ask Teves to tender a courtesy resignation if he really made a move to seek a political asylum? They should have let him explain first.
If he would admit that he officially filed the papers for political asylum in Dili, Timor-Leste’s capital, Congress, where he held office, should have given him the benefit of the doubt and reviewed his claims in the application.
Did the House panel peruse Teves’ asylum documents before yanking him out?
There has been no public admission from Teves about the political asylum brouhaha.
Even if he denied it despite the claim of the Department of Justice (DoJ), his denial would still be subjected to further scrutiny by the House panel before deciding to lower the boom.
(When we are accused of committing an act inimical to public interest or violating any law, it’s our constitutional right to invoke the right against self-incrimination.)
It’s called due process. Listen before you condemn. After all, Teves is not an ordinary employee but their co-equal in the Lower Chamber of the 19th Congress.
“Undemocratic” because Teves is an elected public official. It was the people of the third congressional district of Negros Oriental that gave him the majestic mandate to represent them in congress.
He’s not an appointed public official who serves at the pleasure of the appointing official like in the cabinet.
Unless found guilty and convicted by a competent court for a serious crime that would render him unfit or ineligible to hold a public office, no authority can forfeit or supersede the supreme power of the people’s mandate in a democratic context.
While public officials are expected to adhere to the highest standards of ethics and integrity, a mere “violation” of code of conduct shouldn’t invalidate the will of the people bestowed upon certain individuals elected as public servants.
Also, Teves, despite his notoriety and awful public reputation, is still presumed innocent until proven otherwise in the three murder cases the DoJ recently filed against him. (We know this was not officially one of the bases for his eviction).
He may be a suspected mastermind in the gruesome massacre that killed nine people, including Negros Oriental Gov. Roel Degamo on March 4, 2023, but, again, no formal charges have been filed against him in relation to the massacre yet; and he has not been found guilty in a fair trial.
The jarring and tyrannous verdict to kick out an elected member in the national legislature based on unproven accusations and biased public outrage will go down in history as one of the most grotesque and absurd moves by the Philippine House of Representatives.
(The author, who is now based in New York City, used to be the editor of two daily newspapers in Iloilo.—Ed)