4 suspects in murder of Negros Oriental governor charged
MANILA, Philippines — As the police on Monday filed multiple charges against four of the suspected gunmen in the killing of Negros Oriental Gov. Roel Degamo on March 4, the Department of Justice (DOJ) said that two of them might be included in the government’s witness protection program (WPP).
“We need to evaluate their statements and assess to determine if there is enough basis. If there is, we can admit them to the WPP,” Justice Assistant Secretary and spokesperson Mico Clavano said in a press briefing on Monday.
Joric Labrador, Joven Javier, Benjie Rodriguez and Osmundo Rivero — who had been arrested earlier by joint forces of the police and the Philippine Army — were charged with multiple murder, frustrated murder and illegal possession of firearms and explosives at the City Prosecutor’s Office in Bayawan City and at the Provincial Prosecutor’s Office in Dumaguete City, both in Negros Oriental.
A fifth suspect, who remained unidentified, was killed in an encounter with pursuing policemen and soldiers in Bayawan City.
A search was ongoing for other remaining suspects believed to still be in Negros Oriental, according to Police Col. Gerard Ace Pelare, spokesperson for the Special Investigation Task Group Degamo.
“There are deployed strategic units in all entry and exit points and there are pursuing teams scattered all over [the province] to make sure that we can catch the remaining suspects,” he added.
Pelare said the suspects were all former military personnel who had been dishonorably discharged from the service for various offenses involving illegal drugs and for going absent without leave.
Interior Secretary Benhur Abalos said all possible motives in Degamo’s killing, including politics, were being considered in the investigation. “This is a sensitive case. We are looking at all angles,” he told reporters.
“What’s important here is we catch the mastermind. We won’t stop until justice is given to the victim,” said Abalos who urged other suspects to surrender “because some of your companions have been arrested and there is a bounty for your arrest.”
The DOJ earlier offered a P5-million reward for any information on Degamo’s killers.
President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. said the governor’s killing was a “purely political” and “particularly terrifying” incident that “cannot go unpunished.”
“This one is purely political, [the death] of Kuya Roel,” he told reporters at the sidelines of the launch of an agriculture entrepreneurship program in Malacañang.
Marcos said he had ordered Abalos to identify “political hot spots” following recent attacks that targeted local government officials.
“What I told Secretary Abalos and the PNP is to now make an examination — like what we do when elections approach — to find out hot spots. I said do it again. Don’t think of election first, but think [where] the hot spots are and then we’ll look at them,” he said.
The governor’s main political rival, however, was quick to deny his involvement, saying he had no motive and would not benefit from the governor’s death.
In a 16-minute video posted on Facebook, Negros Oriental Rep. Arnolfo Teves Jr. extended his sympathies to Degamo’s family and claimed there were personalities who wanted to pin the murder on him.
“If I had any plan or ability to carry this out, then I should have done this before the elections,” Teves said, adding: “What would be the motive if I were to do this now? My brother and I won’t benefit from this because if the governor is gone, the vice governor will take his place.”
Vice Gov. Carlo Jorge Joan Reyes and Councilor Manuel Sagarbarria took their respective oaths as governor and vice governor of the province on March 5, a day after the killing.
“In every crime, the police always looks for the motive first — who will benefit most. In all honesty, we won’t get any benefit from this,” said Teves, who was in the United States for a stem cell treatment.
But at the same time, he expressed disbelief at how fast the police were able to identify and arrest the suspects in the killing.
“Hayop sa galing. Parang pang sine (It was incredible. It was like in the movies),” he said, adding that he hoped the same speedy response would be applied to other unsolved murders in the province.
Teves is the older brother of Pryde Henry who served as Negros Oriental governor for just four months after the Commission of Elections nullified his victory in the May 2022 elections in favor of Degamo.
It was first reported that Degamo had a meeting with beneficiaries of the government’s Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program when he was killed.
His family, however, clarified that he was having a “Peoples’ Day’’ in which he would open his house to constituents in need of help, when 12 men wearing Army uniforms and bulletproof vests entered and opened fire. Aside from Degamo, eight other people were killed while 17 others were wounded.
PNP chief Gen. Rodolfo Azurin Jr., in a press briefing at Camp Crame, admitted there was negligence on the part of the police in securing Degamo, adding that he had ordered an investigation into possible lapses.
“Yes, we admit that there really is negligence, that the security personnel have become lax. The ongoing investigation will not only look at the criminal aspect of the case but also definitely determine the culpability of the security of the late governor,” he said.
When he was shot, Degamo was flanked by an eight-member security detail composed of two policemen and six soldiers—the maximum number of security personnel for local officials under the PNP’s current policies.
According to Azurin, security might not have been as tight because the governor was “in his comfort zone,” as engaging with residents at his house in Pamplona town every Saturday and Sunday was a “regular ritual.”