Marcos taps military to get 10 more Degamo slay suspects
DUMAGUETE CITY, Negros Oriental, Philippines — President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. has issued a verbal order to call out the Armed Forces of the Philippines to assist in the capture of the 10 remaining suspects in the March 4 assassination of Negros Oriental Gov. Roel Degamo that also killed eight other people.
Senior Undersecretary Carlito Galvez Jr., the de facto head of the Department of National Defense, told reporters in Dumaguete City on Saturday that the president’s order was the lowest form of military action in responding to a security threat.
In escalating fashion, this military action is normally followed by the declaration of a state of emergency to quell “lawless violence,” then the suspension of the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus, and finally the declaration of martial law.
“This order for the AFP is for them to do everything that needs to be done to give justice to Governor Degamo and the victims of other atrocities in Negros and dismantle private armed groups and establish normalcy and regain the trust of the public,” Galvez said.
Four suspects were arrested just hours after the attack on Degamo inside his residential compound at Barangay Isidro in Pamplona town. A fifth suspect, who is still unidentified, was killed in a firefight with the pursuing lawmen in Bayawan City.
The police had filed charges that included multiple murder and illegal possession of firearms and explosives against the four suspects — Joric Labrador, Joven Aber, Benjie Rodriguez, and Osmundo Rivero — all ex-soldiers who had been dishonorably discharged from the service for various offenses, including illegal drugs.
Mayor Janice Degamo, the governor’s widow, was thankful to the national government for its swift response, saying it gave them hope of seeing justice.
“It is only right that he be given justice. I believe, similar to the belief of the majority of people in Negros Oriental, that putting the mastermind behind bars will bring peace once again to this once-peaceful province of ours. We owe that to our children and our children’s children. It would be shameful if we do nothing to bring peace to Negros Oriental,” she said.
Asked to comment on the raid conducted by the police on the houses of her husband’s rival, Rep. Arnolfo Teves Jr., the mayor replied: “Since he was named by the gunman, I think it is only but right that his house was searched in our goal to secure evidence. If you are not involved in anything, you will not fear your house being searched.”
Teves, who was in the United States to undergo stem cell treatment, earlier denied any hand in the killing of Degamo, saying he and his family would not benefit from it since no Teves could take over as governor.
A few days after his video message was posted on his Facebook page, one of the suspects said a certain “Cong Teves” ordered the hit on Degamo.
Teves’ younger brother, Pryde Henry, was declared the winner in the 2022 elections against Degamo. But his victory was nullified by the Commission on Elections and the votes of a nuisance candidate Grego Gaudia, who used the name “Ruel Degamo,” was counted in Degamo’s favor.
Gen. Andres Centino, the AFP chief of staff, said the military and police were forming a single task force to bring back peace in Negros Oriental.
“We have directed all the law enforcement units within Negros Island to form the task force to coordinate and work together to solve the several killings, to include last week’s incident,” he said. “We have formed the unit that will do this and we also have the officers who will compose the task force,” he added.
Centino said that in the coming days, soldiers would be accompanying police in manning checkpoints and in serving warrants.
“The deployment of our forces is to assure our people that the government is here, is working and that peace and order will prevail in this part of the country,” he said.
In Manila, Justice Secretary Jesus Crispin Remulla said he suspected a “failure of intelligence” on the part of the Philippine National Police, which opened Degamo to the attack, noting that most of the officers deployed to the governor’s security detail did not show up that day.
“There’s a question here as to why only two police were officially assigned [to Degamo], although the local police of Negros Oriental did lend four more police. Out of the six that were assigned to Governor Degamo, only one was on duty that day, the other five did not report,” Remulla said on Saturday in his weekly radio program on dzRH.
The justice secretary did not give other details on why he believed that the absence of the police officers could be related to Degamo’s assassination.
“That should be investigated, and it’s a failure of intelligence on the part of the PNP Region 7,” Remulla said.
The officers should have provided perimeter security if they did not want to be bodyguards, he added.
“That’s their job, they should have guarded him but that day, they weren’t there,” he said.Placed under WPP
Last week, Remulla placed the four suspects who were arrested under the witness protection program (WPP), with “maximum benefits,” to encourage them to give more information about the assassination plot.
He said Labrador and Rodriguez had admitted their involvement in the assassination and even claimed they were acting on orders of “Congressman Teves.”
Remulla did not say whether the suspects were referring to the congressman or his brother, who is also a former member of the House of Representatives.
He said they were still being questioned by the National Bureau of Investigation.