IN NUMBERS: Attacks on elected officials in Negros Oriental since 2016
MANILA, Philippines — A total of 43 elected government officials in Negros Oriental were victims of gun attacks from 2016 to March 2023, and of those, 33 were killed, the Philippine National Police (PNP) told senators on Monday.
Brig. Gen. Romeo Caramat Jr., chief of the PNP Criminal Investigation and Detection Group (CIDG), bared these figures at a hearing of the Senate Committee on Public Order and Dangerous Drugs. It was the committee’s first hearing on political killings in the country, the latest of which is the assassination of Negros Oriental Gov. Roel Degamo.
The numbers do not include attacks on appointed government officials and civilians who were hurt or killed due to political reasons.
43 gun attacks
According to Caramat, the following are the positions of the 43 elected officials in Negros Oriental who were attacked since 2016:
- one governor
- one provincial board member
- two vice mayors
- six city or municipal council members
- 16 barangay chiefs
- 17 barangay councilors (kagawads)
A total of 33 — or about 76.74% — of the total shooting victims were killed, three were injured, and seven were unharmed.
The 33 slain elected officials in Negros Oriental had the following positions:
- one governor (Degamo),
- one provincial board member
- five city or municipal councilors
- 12 barangay chiefs
- 14 barangay councilors
Police data also showed the years in which they were killed:
- four in 2023
- one in 2022
- six in 2021
- five in 2020
- nine in 2019
- five in 2018
- two in 2017
- one in 2016
At least 63 suspects in 20 cases were identified, according to Caramat. Eight of the cases have been solved and 12 were cleared.
As of this writing, the 10 other cases remain under investigation.
Citing a memorandum circular by the National Police Commission, Caramat said a case would be considered solved under the following conditions:
- a suspect has been identified
- sufficient evidence has been found to charge the suspect
- the suspect has been taken into custody and has been charged in the appropriate venue
- when some elements beyond police control prevent the arrest of the suspect, such as when the victim refuses to prosecute or the offender dies or runs away
- when the arrest of one suspect can solve several other crimes or several other suspects could be be arrested in the process of solving a single crime
On the other hand, a case is considered cleared under the following conditions:
- at least one of the suspects has been identified
- there is sufficient evidence to charge the suspect
- the suspect has been charged in the appropriate venue
Solved cases fall under the category of cleared cases, Caramat noted.
Caramat said a total of three cases referred to the prosecutor’s office are undergoing preliminary investigation, three were dismissed, and 14 have been filed in court.
Among those filed in court, 11 are undergoing trial, while the remaining three are for arraignment.
And of the 63 identified suspects in killings, 39 remain at large, 21 are detained, and three are deceased.
Degamo’s widow Janice Degamo, who is the mayor of Pamplona town in Negros Oriental, asked if the arrested individuals in these cases were also politicians.
“If not, we want to know the motive. What is the motive of killing elected officials when the man who pulled the trigger is not a politician?” she asked, speaking partly in Filipino.
Caramat said that these were “politically-motivated killings” based on the information they had gathered.
Senate Majority Leader Joel Villanueva further prodded: “Is this clear to us? If we say it is politically motivated, that means a politician or someone else who will benefit from a politician is ordering the [crime], because it falls under the category that this is political or politically motivated.”
The CIDG chief said most of the suspects identified were “gun for hire” – or professionally hired to kill by guns.
“All those suspects were hired by certain politicians, but I cannot tell because we do not have enough evidence to pinpoint [them],” he said.
Villanueva said this information came with the expectation that the investigation would pin down the orchestrators of the politically-motivated attacks.
Sen. Ronald dela Rosa, who presided over the panel hearing, also pressed for the investigation not to stop at identifying the triggerman.
“It often ends with the gunman unless you push him to point to the mastermind. Only then will we be able to elevate the probe to the mastermind. But it is often cut short, especially if the mastermind is rich and has a ton of money to continuously support the families of the suspects. The gunman will remain very quiet,” Dela Rosa said.
In 2022, the World Justice Project pointed out that the Philippines’ Rule of Law index slightly improved – 97th in rule of law. It was still, however, among the weakest in the East Asia and Pacific region — 13th out of 15 countries, with a score of 0.46 that was only ahead of Myanmar and Cambodia.