PNP tags Degamo foe Teves in 2019 killings in Negros Oriental
MANILA, Philippines — Negros Oriental Rep. Arnolfo Teves Jr., who has denied having a hand in the recent assassination of his political nemesis, Negros Oriental Gov. Roel Degamo, was accused by the police on Tuesday of ordering a series of murders in his province four years ago.
The killings that took place from March to June 2019 came to the fore as investigators in the Degamo case zeroed in on politics as the likely motive for the brazen attack on the home of the provincial chief executive that also left eight other persons dead on Saturday.
A day after Teves posted a video statement on his Facebook page denying any role in the March 4 shootings, he was named a respondent in a complaint filed by the police in connection with the 2019 murder of at least three people, including former Negros Oriental board member Miguel Dungog.
Teves, who is reportedly in the United States, declined to issue a statement when contacted by the Inquirer for comment.
The Philippine National Police Criminal Investigation and Detection Group (PNP-CIDG) accused Teves and five others of murder for the killings that took place in various parts of Negros Oriental.
Also named respondents in the complaint filed with the Department of Justice (DOJ) were Richard Cuadra, Jasper Tanasan, Alex Mayagma, Rolando Pinili, and a certain Hannah Mae.
Lawyer Levito Baligod, who represented the families of the victims, said the witnesses in the complaint were among those who allegedly executed the crimes.
‘Instructions to assassinate’
“They were part of the assassination team. They executed affidavits,” he told reporters, adding: “Allegedly they were summoned by Congressman Teves, [who] gave them the instructions to assassinate these victims.”
Baligod said Dungog was killed on March 25, 2019, near Silliman Medical Center, Dumaguete City, while Lester Pialgao Bato was killed on May 26, 2019, in Sitio Labugon, Barangay Nagbo-alao in Basay town.
The third victim, Pacito Libron, was killed on June 23, 2019, in Barangay Malabugas, Bayawan City, the lawyer said.
It was not immediately clear if the three killings were related.
Citing witness testimonies, Baligod said political rivalry was the reason Teves allegedly ordered the killings.
Asked why the complaint was filed only now, the lawyer said the team had been talking to witnesses even before Degamo’s killing.
Also on Tuesday, the PNP spokesperson, Col. Jean Fajardo, said the investigation into Degamo’s murder was now “going in the direction” of the political angle, considering the circumstances surrounding Degamo’s ascent to his fourth term as governor.
Members of the Degamo family also said they were convinced a political rival was behind the governor’s killing.
Pamplona Mayor Janice Vallega-Degamo, Degamo’s widow, urged police investigators to focus on politics as the motive.
Who else can do it?
The widow said only wealthy and powerful people who had an ax to grind against the governor could do it.
“If you look at Negros Oriental, this is a peaceful place. However, there are those who like to sow violence. Someone is sowing terror and was behind the massacre. I cannot think of someone else who is so powerful and so rich except our political rival,” she said.
“Malapit na ang araw mo. (Your day of reckoning is near). You will have to answer for what you did to the governor and a lot more,” she added, without naming anyone.
On March 4, President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. said the government “will not rest until we have brought the perpetrators of this dastardly and heinous crime to justice.”
Degamo, who was to turn 57 in April, died in the hospital after being shot repeatedly by one of several men in Army uniforms and bulletproof vests who casually walked into his residential compound in Pamplona town. Eight other people were killed, while 17, including three provincial officials, were wounded.
Teves and Degamo had been political rivals for years.
On a number of occasions, Teves challenged Degamo to a fistfight in social media posts to settle their differences.
Teves is the older brother of Pryde Henry Teves, whose victory as governor of Negros Oriental in the May 2022 elections was nullified by the Commission on Elections (Comelec) after the votes for nuisance candidate Grego Gaudia, who used the name “Ruel Degamo,” were annulled in Degamo’s favor.
Pryde Henry had served as governor of Negros Oriental for four months before he was forced to step down on Oct. 11 last year, paving the way for Degamo’s assumption of office.
Degamo’s proclamation was affirmed in February by the Supreme Court, which said it found no grave abuse of discretion in the Comelec’s actions.
Under witness protection
Also on Tuesday, the DOJ said four suspects in the assassination of Degamo have been charged with murder and frustrated murder before the Regional Trial Court of Tanjay, Negros Oriental.
The DOJ said it might place them under the government’s Witness Protection Program after they promised to cooperate in the investigation.
According to the DOJ, Joric Labrador, Joven Javier, Banjie Rodriguez, and Osmundo Rivero are facing charges for three counts of murder and frustrated murder.
The suspects were all former military men who had been dishonorably discharged for various offenses, including involvement in illegal drugs and unauthorized absences.
Twelve other suspects who remain unidentified face the same charges before the court.
A separate set of charges for illegal possession of firearms, ammunition, and explosives was also filed against Labrador, Javier, and Rodriguez before Bayawan City Regional Trial Court.
The DOJ said the four suspects were brought to Camp Crame in Quezon City, where they underwent booking procedures on Tuesday morning.
They were later placed in the protective custody of the National Bureau of Investigation.
Also on Tuesday, the Armed Forces of the Philippines sought to distance itself from the suspects.
“Per records, the three former soldiers arrested were separated from the military service for Awol (absence without leave) and involvement in illegal drugs, which is a serious offense that the organization would never tolerate,” AFP spokesperson Medel Aguilar said in a statement.