Open season on killings?

The challenge for the police and now the National Bureau of Investigation, after it was ordered to conduct parallel investigations, is to unmask the masterminds.

At the rate politicians are being targeted for assassination, there may be an undeclared open season for organized armed groups and hired guns to make a killing — literally and figuratively — from their bloody trade.

As if the attempts that targeted last month Lanao del Sur Governor Mamintal Alonto-Adiong; Aparri, Cagayan Vice Mayor Rommel Alamdeda; and Monatawal, Maguindanao del Sur Mayor Ohto Montawal were not alarming enough, the nation was jarred Saturday by the brazen murder of Negros Oriental Governor Roel Degamo.

Aside from Degamo, eight other persons were declared by the police, as of Sunday, as fatalities in the commando-style operation undertaken by nearly a dozen men who stormed the compound of the governor’s house as he and other provincial officials were distributing ayuda or financial aid to their constituents.

Among the dead were innocent civilians whose only fault was being at the wrong place at the wrong time when the armed men wearing camouflage uniforms unleashed blood, gore, and mayhem with automatic gunfire from their assault rifles.

Mere hours had passed after the Degamo bloodbath and President Ferdinand Marcos Jr.’s warning that he’d get the perpetrators when a composite tracking unit composed of the police and military captured three suspects.

Those arrested were identified by the police as ex-Army rangers Joric Labrador and Joven Abner, and one Benjie Rodriguez. Likewise, another suspect was killed in a purported firefight with the government forces. The slain suspect’s identity was yet to be revealed by the authorities at press time.

Information from those arrested revealed the location of a cache of weapons and armor plate carrier jackets similar to those used in the brazen Saturday attack. The armed men stormed into the governor’s residence in the town of Pamplona aboard two black Mitsubishi Monteros.

Forensic tests like fingerprint dusting and DNA matching on the vehicles should also confirm the arrested suspects’ involvement in the crime as the nation would not be assuaged with just “rounding up the usual suspects” only to be later freed due to botched or sloppy investigation.

Ballistics should confirm whether the weapons retrieved were also the ones used in the attack described by Philippine National Police public information chief P/Col. Red Maranan as the handiwork of an organized crime group.

Maranan said that the suspects had access to high-powered firearms, SUVs, and law enforcement uniforms. Before the arrest of the three and the killing of the other suspect, Marcos and Justice Secretary Jesus Crispin Remulla offered a P5-million reward to anyone who could provide information about the perpetrators.

Still, just like in the attacks on Adiong, Alameda and Montawal that resulted in the deaths of Alameda and scores of other people, the challenge for the police and now the National Bureau of Investigation, after it was ordered to conduct parallel investigations, is to unmask the masterminds.

Likewise, the PNP should pull all stops to provide security to Adiong and Montawal, as well as the family of Degamo, including his wife, Pamplona Mayor Janice Degamo; and the man who was sworn in to take the slain governor’s post, erstwhile Negros Oriental vice governor Carlo Jorge Joan Reyes.

Prior to the Pamplona carnage, Philippine National Police chief General Rodolfo Azurin Jr. said the attacks on Adiong, Alameda and Montawal were “isolated incidents” that do not reflect on dropping crime rates in the country in the last few months.

That clearly is not the case and the PNP and other law enforcement agencies must step up to the plate to make those who are predisposed to committing probably politically motivated violence think twice before hiring gunmen to satiate their thirst for blood.

Here, the police must work hand-in-hand with government prosecutors under Secretary Remulla to file charges not just against the killers but more so against those who shelled a lot of money and ordered the assassination operations.

After all, the best deterrence to crime, aside from increased police visibility, is the certainty of being caught and being made accountable for criminal acts.

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