By Ruth Abbey Gita-Carlos
MANILA – President Ferdinand R. Marcos Jr. on Saturday vowed justice for the killing of Negros Oriental Governor Roel Degamo.
Marcos condemned “in the strongest possible terms” the attack, which local authorities said happened at about 9:40 a.m. right inside Degamo’s residence in Pamplona town.
Initial reports said about 10 men got off separate vehicles and barged into the compound, where the governor was in the middle of a meeting with beneficiaries of the poverty alleviation measure Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program.
Three suspects were later arrested in Bayawan City, two of them former Army soldiers, in a follow-up operation.
The report released by Cpl. Rodel Pantoja of the Bayawan City Police Station identified the suspects as former soldiers Joric Labrador, 50, a resident of Cagayan De Oro; and Joven Aber, 42, of La Castellana, Negros Occidental.
They were arrested along with Benjie Rodriguez, 45, of Bonifacio, Misamis Occidental, in Sitio Punong, Barangay Cansumalig in Bayawan, about an hour and a half away from the crime scene.
“My government will not rest until we have brought the perpetrators of this dastardly and heinous crime to justice,” Marcos posted on Twitter. “I am warning all those involved in this killing: You can run but you cannot hide. We will find you. If you surrender now, it will be your best option.”
The President said the investigation into Degamo’s murder case is “developing rapidly,” adding that the government has gathered substantial information against the possible suspects.
“We have received much information and now have a clear direction on how to proceed to bring to justice those behind this killing,” he said.
Five other bystanders also died after sustaining gunshot wounds, the governor’s wife, Pamplona Mayor Janice Degamo, confirmed in a Facebook live video.
“The governor did not deserve that kind of death,” she said. “There were five others who died with him, who were there to ask for help.”
Vice President Sara Duterte likewise denounced the killing of her “political ally” and “dear friend.”
“His death is a tragedy to the province of Negros Oriental, and I am one with the grieving people of the province, his friends, and his family,” Duterte said in a statement. “Authorities must immediately probe this cowardly, evil act and bring the perpetrators to justice and pay for their crime, especially the brains behind it.”
Duterte suggested that authorities “start looking at the political feud that has gripped Negros Oriental and has taken so many lives, not just of Gov. Degamo.”
Interior and Local Government Secretary Benjamin Abalos Jr., in another statement, said he has already ordered the Philippine National Police to pursue the assassins.
“Naka-deploy na ang mga puwersa ng Negros Oriental Provincial Police Office pati na ang mga kapulisan sa karatig na probinsya para galugarin ang bawat sulok ng lugar para agad na madakip ang mga kriminal (The Negros Oriental Provincial Police Office personnel and cops from adjacent provinces are hunting down the perpetrators),” Abalos said.
“Asahan ninyo na hindi kami titigil hanggang hindi nareresolba ang kasong ito gayundin ang iba pang insidente ng pananambang na nangyari sa mga nakalipas na araw (You can expect authorities to solve this case, as well as those of other slay incidents in the past days). We will quickly get to the bottom of this,” he added.
Don Paulo Teves, brother of Valencia Mayor Edgar Teves Jr., and another individual were found dead on Feb. 6
Two days later, suspects Danish national Tim Moerch, 45, and his girlfriend, Myla Cagas, were also killed hours after they were released from detention.
The Department of Justice (DOJ), meanwhile, announced a reward of PHP5 million for any information that will lead to the arrest of all suspects.
In a statement, the DOJ said Secretary Jesus Crispin Remulla has instructed the National Bureau of Investigation to join the probe.
“Secretary Remulla has put up a reward of PHP5 million for anyone who can give vital information or evidence to charge and prosecute the perpetrators and mastermind/s behind the murder-assassination of Governor Degamo and the five civilians,” the statement read.
Remulla is currently in Switzerland for United Nations Human Rights Council sessions.
“There is absolutely no room for such evildoings in this country,” the DOJ said. “The Department, together with all the other law enforcement agencies, will not rest until justice is met. The killers as well as the mastermind/s will be uncovered and will be held accountable for the incident.”
It was only on Feb. 14 when the Supreme Court (SC) dismissed the petitions questioning the result of the gubernatorial race between Degamo and Pryde Henry Teves.
The high tribunal upheld the win of Degamo and junked the petitions filed by Pryde Teves and Grego “Ruel” Degamo against the Commission on Elections (Comelec).
“The Court found that the Commission on Elections en banc did not commit grave abuse of discretion in issuing its Resolution in SPA No. 21-085 (DC) dated Sept. 1, 2022 in favor of Roel Degamo,” the SC said.
The Comelec en banc affirmed the resolution of the Second Division, which ruled Ruel Degamo as a nuisance candidate and annulled Pryde Teves’ proclamation as governor.
The votes obtained by Ruel Degamo was credited in favor of Roel Degamo.
The final recount showed Roel Degamo got 331,726 votes while Pryde Teves had 301,319.
Pryde Teves relinquished his post in October last year after the SC did not grant his motion for a temporary restraining order.
The SC echoed Comelec’s observation that it was only for the May 9, 2022 elections that Grego Degamo used “Ruel” as nickname. (With a report from Benjamin Pulta/PNA)