By Glazyl Y. Masculino
BACOLOD City – Negros Oriental third district Rep. Arnolfo “Arnie” Teves Jr. is among those who are reportedly being investigated for the killing of Negros Oriental Governor Roel Ragay Degamo inside his house on March 4.
According to the latest reports by national news organizations, authorities do not exempt anybody from the investigation of the grisly Negros Oriental murders.
Two days after the gun attack happened that claimed Degamo’s life, Teves made a statement through a Facebook live video denying his involvement in the crime.
Teves said that he was expecting that he will be implicated in the crime. But he claimed that he has nothing to do with it and that others just wanted to pin it on him. He even asked for protection for his life and peace in Negros Oriental.
Earlier, Degamo’s wife, Pamplona Mayor Janice Degamo said that the attack against her husband was politically-motivated. But the police refused to discuss specific details regarding the motive while investigation is ongoing.
But what’s the beef between Degamo and Teves?
Governor Degamo unseated former Bayawan City Mayor Pryde Henry Teves in the gubernatorial post after the votes of a nuisance candidate “Ruel Degamo” was credited in the slain official’s favor.
Congressman Teves is the brother of Pryde Henry, who voluntarily stepped down from office, paving a way for a peaceful transfer of leadership to Degamo.
The Criminal Investigation and Detection Group (CIDG) filed criminal charges on Tuesday before the Department of Justice (DOJ) against Rep. Teves, and five others in connection with murders that transpired in 2019.
Teves has yet to issue a statement regarding the said charges.
On Thursday night, PRO-Central Visayas issued a statement about Congressman Teves tagged by one of the arrested suspects as the alleged mastermind in the killing of Degamo.
In a statement, the regional police said that the declarations made publicly earlier by one of the suspects in the killing of Degamo were information that they had already acquired from the moment they arrested the four suspects six hours after the gun attack happened.
“While we had these significant developments at hand at the early stage of the conduct of massive hot pursuit operations, we maintained that these be revealed in due time not to compromise the conduct of investigations,” the PRO-7 said.
Upon the completion of the necessary documents, they said that they had turned over to the DOJ the suspects and the pieces of evidence as part of the process, with their extrajudicial confessions taken in accordance with the law.
“When we forwarded the case for the inquest, we already have the complete picture of what transpired before, during, and after the incident, including the identities of the suspects, including the alleged mastermind,” the PRO-7 said.
These have been the result of all the relentless operations conducted by our personnel on the ground immediately after the attack occurred, they added.
Currently, the prosecution of the case is under the control of the DOJ, after two of the suspects manifested their willingness to testify in court as state witnesses, they said.
“With the strong perseverance of PRO-7 to solve the crime and our collaboration with other government agencies, we were successful in unmasking the perpetrators and mastermind in this unacceptable attack,” Police Brigadier General Jerry Bearis, PRO-7 director said in a statement.
We are likewise confident that with the pieces of evidence at hand, all the persons involved in this killing will be properly prosecuted and justice served to the families, he added.
In a press briefing on Thursday, Police Lieutenant Colonel Gerard Ace Pelare, spokesperson of the Special Investigation Task Group (SITG) of Police Regional Office (PRO)-Central Visayas, said they are nearing the completion of the investigation.
This, after the suspects intimated their willingness to assist and execute their extrajudicial confession. Pelare, however, did not reveal more information about it.
Pelare said the PRO-Central Visayas sought the assistance of the Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG), which is closely monitoring the operation, and the Office of the Presidential Assistant for the Visayas for the provision of independent lawyers who would assist in the taking of the extrajudicial confession.
“That was key so that we can get relevant information in relation to the ongoing pursuit operation against the remaining suspects,” he added.
Pelare said that they have noted the blow-by-blow account of what happened before, during, and after the crime, because they have already consolidated the pieces of evidence during the custodial debriefing of the suspects.
The three suspects, who were first arrested in Bayawan City, were identified by the SITG as ex-Army soldier Joric Labrador, 50, of Cagayan de Oro; ex-Army ranger Joven Javier, 42, of La Castellana, Negros Occidental; and Benjie Rodriguez, 45, of Misamis Occidental.
Pelare said that their apprehension stemmed from the relentless and aggressive pursuit operations of the police and the military about six hours after the gun attack happened at Degamo’s residence in Pamplona town on March 4.
From there, authorities were able to extract information that led to the neutralization of another suspect in Bayawan City later that day, he added. Pelare, however, said that the slain suspect is still unidentified, as of press time.
The following day, the fourth suspect was arrested. Pelare said that he pretended as someone who was victimized by a carnapping incident to seek assistance from the authorities who were conducting pursuit operations. But when the police asked him strategic questions, he gave in and provided information to the authorities, Pelare added.
It turned out that the fourth arrested suspect from Zamboanga City was a direct participant in the shooting incident, Pelare said. Adding that the slain suspect served as one of the lookouts, based on the testimony of one of the first three arrested suspects.
Pelare said that they are still trying to assess if, in any way, the arrest of another person in Amlan town could also be linked to the incident.
About 36 hours after the deadly attack happened, Pelare said that they forwarded to the Prosecutor’s Office criminal complaints of multiple murder and multiple frustrated murder against four arrested suspects and 12 John Does.
Charges for illegal possession of explosives and illegal possession of firearms and ammunition were also filed against the four arrested suspects following the recovery of seven assault rifles and other weapons.
Pelare said that they have also proven that one of the recovered assault rifles was used in the killing of Degamo based on the forensic evidence.
“We are very particular with forensic evidence. We make sure that it is solid because this are very strong pieces of evidence during the court trial,” he added.
Pelare said that the SITG spent a considerable period of time analyzing these pieces of evidence to make sure they have airtight cases.
Earlier, the SITG also identified the owners of the three getaway vehicles that were found abandoned in Bayawan City hours after the attack happened.
Pelare said that 10 suspects were identified as direct participants in the crime, while others served as facilitators or conspirators and alleged masterminds. He added that at least 16 suspects were being tagged in the case – both principal by direct participation and inducement.
According to the testimony of one of the suspects, Pelare said that casing and surveillance on the slain governor were conducted as early as December 2022.
Pelare said that based on the investigation, the perpetrators were gathered from different places – some of them from Mindanao – before the crime happened.
They were then briefed in a safe house to identify the particular mode of operation that they are going to launch against the governor.
“They were choosing among the options they had until they were able to find the opportune time to launch the attack that day,” Pelare said.
Pelare said that they are not sure if the plan included the actual penetration of the security detail of the governor.
Pelare said that they also do not discount a possible “inside job” – that someone in the compound was a conspirator.
The perpetrators barged into Degamo’s house on Saturday morning, while he was talking to his constituents, and fired shots that also killed eight others, including two barangay officials, and wounded 17 other individuals, including two soldiers and a medical doctor.
“It was a well-planned and well-organized attack on the lives of the victims,” Pelare said, adding that most of the suspects were former military personnel who were dishonorably discharged from the service.
“Matagal na itong hindi connected sa government, and had pending cases, while others were already jailed and were released for various reasons – nakapagpiyansa or tapos na ang mga kaso,” Pelare said.
Pelare said that there was a middleman who facilitated the recruitment and planning of the incident. He, however, refused to elaborate further.
“This will come out if the cases will be completed,” Pelare said, adding that they have substantially done their part in the investigation.
When asked about the extrajudicial confession of one of the suspects that he was able to allegedly talk with the mastermind over video chat, Pelare said that they are trying to collect pieces of evidence – scientific, testimonial, and object, to make sure that they can build an airtight case against the alleged mastermind.
“We are nearing the solution of this crime, as we already have the true picture of what happened before, during, and after the incident,” Pelare said.
Pelare said the SITG is very confident because they have done everything. He added that they have forwarded the pieces of evidence to the DOJ. “What we are doing right now is the final touches of the investigation,” he said.
The four arrested suspects were recently transferred to Camp Crame as ordered by the national government. Two of them will be placed under the Witness Protection Program of the DOJ.
“This is the very swift and precise action of PRO-Central Visayas regarding the case,” Pelare said.
Meanwhile, Pelare appealed to the Negrenses to help the authorities locate the other suspects by reporting any suspicious individuals that may be linked to the said incident.
“This will be very crucial information. If you have information on the suspects in the areas, the SITG appeals to contact us so that we can account for them,” he said.
RELIEF OF PERSONNEL
Pelare refused to comment on the relief of the entire police force in Bayawan City on March 7, three days after Degamo’s assassination.
Pelare stressed that the function of the SITG is to conduct the investigation, and the relief of the personnel is beyond their control.
“I am not privy to the decision-making process. But, as you know, we are placing fresh legs on the ground because of the ongoing pursuit operations,” he said.
Aside from the Bayawan City police force, Pelare also said that personnel in Sta. Catalina Municipal Police Station were also relieved in line with the hot pursuit operation.
“They need policemen that are fresh and motivated, with physical endurance because we believed the remaining suspects have not left Negros island,” he added.
Pelare said they don’t know the further actions of the command, but these are all in relation to the ongoing manhunt operations.
Pelare said the security was beefed up at the Provincial Capitol for the public viewing of Degamo’s remains from March 9 to 12, as they have anticipated a lot of sympathizers.
He, however, refused to go into the security detail, but he assured that the police and the military will work together to secure all the activities pertaining to the funeral of Degamo and the other victims.
He said that they have also accorded the same security to the wounded victims, as they are also very crucial in the case. He added that some of them have yet to execute an affidavit.
President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. visited Degamo’s wake at their residence in Dumaguete City on Wednesday, March 8.