Marcos to Degamo killers: We will find you
MANILA, Philippines — President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. vowed that the government would hunt down all those responsible for the assassination of Negros Oriental Gov. Roel Degamo, one of his close allies and the second provincial chief violently attacked since he took office last year.
Degamo was shot by one of six men wearing Army uniforms and bulletproof vests who entered his residential compound in Pamplona town as he was meeting with beneficiaries of the Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program (4Ps) and local officials on Saturday morning, a witness told the Inquirer.
The four-time governor, who was to turn 57 in April, died in the hospital less than two hours later. Eight other people were killed, and 16, including three provincial officials, were wounded in the carnage that was carried out “without hesitation,” police said.
“My government will not rest until we have brought the perpetrators of this dastardly and heinous crime to justice,” the president said in a statement.
Marcos said the investigation of the attack was “developing rapidly” and that authorities had received “much information and now have a clear direction on how to proceed to bring to justice those behind this killing.”
“I am warning all those involved in this killing: you can run but you cannot hide,” he said.
“We will find you. If you surrender now it will be your best option,” he told the perpetrators.
Three suspected gunmen were arrested in the afternoon, police said.
Widow seeks justice
In a Facebook live video, Pamplona Mayor Janice Degamo, who is the governor’s wife, said her husband died at 11:41 a.m., while being treated at Negros Polymedic Hospital in Sibulan town.
“Governor Degamo does not deserve that kind of death. He was serving his constituents on a Saturday, along with his department heads,” she said. “I hope the national government will be serious in seeking, pursuing justice for my husband. My appeal is to give my husband the justice he deserves.”
Dauin Mayor Galic Truita told reporters that Degamo was shot on the right side of his body, and one bullet slammed into his heart.
The fatalities included Degamo’s videographer Michael Fabugais, 4Ps beneficiary Jessie Bot-ay, the governor’s driver Jerome Maquiling, driver-bodyguard Crispin Vallega, and provincial hospital driver Jomar Canseco.
The officials who were wounded were Provincial Health Officer Dr. Liland Estacion, Provincial Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council head Marlo Quilnet, and Provincial Social Welfare Officer Rosa Banquerigo.
The Police Regional Office in Central Visayas (PRO-7) said the gunmen arrived around 9:30 a.m. aboard three vehicles — a Mitsubishi Pajero with plate number NQZ 735, a green Isuzu pickup with plate number GRY 162, and one black Mitsubishi Montero with plate number YAP 163.
A member of the governor’s staff, who declined to be identified, said that the men armed with assault rifles were let in by a guard who assumed that they were there to join the governor in his regular Saturday service caravan at his home in Barangay San Isidro, Pamplona.
Video taken by a security camera at the governor’s residence showed the gunmen entering the compound and surveying the crowd as if looking for Degamo.
Then, they opened fire simultaneously at several targets.
A witness said one targeted the guards, several shot at the crowd and one went after Degamo.
The killers were seen withdrawing in a coordinated manner with military-like precision after bursts of gunfire lasting about 30 seconds.
One capitol employee said she thought there were fireworks “and then everyone hit the ground.”
“When we became aware of the situation, we found that the governor was already bleeding,” she said.
The gunmen fled toward Bayawan City where the vehicles were later found abandoned in Barangay Cansumalig.
3 suspects nabbed
Bloodstains were found in the cars, indicating that the governor’s bodyguards could have returned fire at the attackers.
Hours later, police arrested three suspects — two former government soldiers and a man whose possible links to the military were not immediately established.
The former soldiers were identified as Joric Labrador, 50, and Joven Aber, 42. The third suspect was identified as Benjie Rodriguez, 45.
Lt. Col. Gerard Ace Pelare, spokesperson of PRO-7, said officers seized a .45-caliber pistol, ammunition, and identification cards from the suspects.
Pelare said authorities located the three suspects in the same village where the getaway vehicles were abandoned, about 60 kilometers from Pamplona by car.
He said the Philippine Army was assisting the police in the pursuit operation.
According to Pelare, Degamo had been receiving “validated” death threats “months before,” prompting the regional police to increase the number of his bodyguards, including military personnel, but he did not say how many they were.
4th victim in 2 weeks
He said the attack “was really a deliberate plan to overcome the security detail” of the governor.
Degamo was the latest and fourth victim in a series of armed attacks against local government officials over the past two weeks.
Lanao del Sur Gov. Mamintal “Bombit” Adiong Jr. survived the first attack on Feb. 17; Aparri, Cagayan Vice Mayor Rommel Alameda died in an ambush on Feb. 19; and Mayor Ohto Montawal of Datu Montawal town, Maguindanao del Sur province, also survived an attack on Feb. 22.
The assassination followed a Supreme Court decision released on Feb. 14 confirming Degamo’s victory in the May 2022 gubernatorial race against former Negros Oriental Rep. Pryde Henry Teves, who was forced to step down.
He was among the governors who supported Marcos in last year’s presidential election. He traveled to Bulacan to attend the proclamation rally of Marcos at the Philippine Arena in February last year.
Marcos won in Negros Oriental in the May presidential elections with 254,806 votes. Former Sen. Manny Pacquiao, who was supported by Teves, received 218,511 votes and former Vice President Leni Robredo got 178,236 votes.
Before the high court decided last month on his electoral protest against Teves, he took his oath as governor before the president at Malacañang on Oct. 5 last year after the Commission on Elections proclaimed him as the new Negros Oriental governor.
On his social media accounts, the president on Saturday posted photos of him and Degamo, including one during last year’s election campaign.
Degamo had been extra cautious, traveling in a bulletproof vehicle and changing routes in land trips in the wake of the alleged killings of several of his supporters. Siaton Mayor Fritz Diaz said Degamo once called his attention for not using a bulletproof car.
“The governor told me that these are dangerous times and we should be careful at all times,” Diaz told the Inquirer.
He said Degamo’s killing was politically motivated.
“I don’t have to say it, but we all know the motive. We can even determine the motive with our eyes closed,” Diaz said.
Degamo was serving his fourth term as governor, including one term as successor to Gov. Agustin Perdices, who died in January 2011.
“God gave me this post,” he often told his supporters.
Degamo’s assassination came despite directives from both Interior Secretary Benhur Abalos and Philippine National Police chief Gen. Rodolfo Azurin Jr. to assess the threats against local officials and to provide elected and appointed officials in the country’s 17 regions enough security following the three earlier attacks.
Abalos directed the PNP to launch a regionwide pursuit operation in Negros Oriental and Negros Occidental “to immediately arrest all these criminals.”
“Rest assured that we will not stop until this case is resolved as well as the other ambuscades that occurred in recent days. We will quickly get to the bottom of this,” he said.
The PNP said that all available resources would be used to arrest all those involved.
“The PNP will solve this case just like other heinous and sensational cases before,” it added.
Speaker Martin Romualdez said “the force of the whole government” would be used to go after those involved.
He called on Abalos, Azurin, and the military “to get to the bottom of this crime and root out the perpetrators of this crime.”