Wednesday, April 24, 2024

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FIRING LINE: Timor-Leste lacks strong decision-making

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By Robert B. Roque, Jr,

For a country as young as Timor-Leste, I don’t think it was expected that it would maintain labyrinthine legal processes to “safeguard”—for lack of a better term—the rights of a foreign fugitive taking refuge in the country.

Pure respect goes out to President Jose Ramos-Horta for holding its ground, telling officials of the Philippines’ National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) that they had no business fetching one of Manila’s most wanted fugitives abroad just yet.

However, this affair, which the East Timorese leader referred to as strictly an immigration issue, is also a matter of geopolitics since it is an issue of stifled justice concerning a political figure in the Philippines.

Denying Manila the opportunity to prosecute Arnolfo “Arnie” Teves Jr., the expelled Filipino congressman suspected of grave crimes, including at least half a dozen murders, is an appalling situation that begs for presidential discretion.

The NBI agents did not go to Timor-Leste to assert authority or argue the limitations of not having an extradition treaty between the two neighboring nations.

However, one must recognize, too, the frustrating reality of missing international legal cooperation within Southeast Asia. Despite Interpol’s red notice and the Philippine government’s pursuit of justice, Teves remains shielded by the cumbersome legal machinery of Timor-Leste.

How can Timor-Leste fully reassure its neighbor that it desires full cooperation in such legal processes if even the simple courtesy of allowing Filipino NBI agents to take a photograph of its fugitive as “proof of life” is made into an overcomplicated debate?

The court proceedings, which may take anywhere from seven to 40 days to resolve, exemplify a systemic failure to expedite justice swiftly. This delay not only undermines the pursuit of truth but also perpetuates impunity, allowing alleged criminals like Teves to evade accountability.

The handling of the case highlights the urgent need for streamlined extradition processes and enhanced regional cooperation among the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) member states to combat transnational crimes effectively.

Timor-Leste’s reluctance to involve foreign counterparts in enforcement operations further complicates an already arduous process.

What Ramos-Horta is hoped to see is that by his reluctance to make an executive decision, in the end, the victims and their families are left waiting for closure while the wheels of justice turn at an agonizingly slow pace.

Timor-Leste must address these shortcomings in its legal framework to ensure that justice is not delayed or denied, especially in cases of such grave magnitude for its ASEAN neighbor and friend.

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SHORT BURSTS. For comments or reactions, email or tweet @Side_View via X app (formerly Twitter). Read current and past issues of this column at

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