Suspects identifying slay mastermind

Abalos yesterday said they were close to identifying the mastermind with the help of the two suspects being considered as state witnesses

Photo from Governor Roel Ragay Degamo/Facebook

The canaries are ready to sing.

Two of the four arrested suspects in the assassination last 4 March of Negros Oriental Governor Roel Degamo have agreed to serve as state witnesses, Interior and Local Government Secretary Benhur Abalos confirmed Tuesday.

Earlier in the day, a statement from the Department of Justice said the two offered to identify and testify the mastermind if they are admitted into the government’s Witness Protection Program.

Aside from Degamo, at least eight others were killed in the commando-style assault on the compound where the governor lived in the town of Pamplona, Negros Oriental.

Video footage of the attack that has gone viral showed civilians waiting to receive aid or “ayuda” from the governor being mowed down with automatic rifle fire. Thirteen people, including two policemen, were wounded in the incident.

P/Lt. Col. Gerard Ace Pelare, spokesperson of Special Investigation Task Force-Degamo, said a joint police and military unit is hunting about five more suspects.

Three of the four suspects who were arrested within hours of the Degamo killing turned out to be ex-military men, with two of them from the elite Army Ranger unit. One other suspect was killed.

Weapons purportedly used in the attack, including several assault rifles, were seized from the arrested suspects.

“All the exit and entry points in Negros are being guarded because we believe that, as of now, they are still on Negros island,” Pelare said. “They were not able to get out.”

No names yet

Abalos yesterday said they were close to identifying the mastermind with the help of the two suspects who applied to serve as state witnesses.

“The two may be placed under the Witness Protection Program so we can pinpoint the mastermind,” Abalos said in a radio interview. “We’re not naming names yet lest the mastermind panic.”

“As far as (we are concerned) the evidence will stand in court (and) we will find the mastermind,” he added.

Pelare said they were looking at the possibility the crime was motivated by politics as theorized by President Ferdinand Marcos Jr.

“Since the start of the investigation, politics or intense political rivalry has been one of our considerations,” he said, adding that the suspects had revealed “substantial information.”

“During the custodial debriefing of the suspects, the investigators were able to obtain substantial information that could lead to the resolution of this case,” Pelare said.

Investigators are looking into the names and details provided by the suspects, the police officer added.

On Monday, Negros Oriental Rep. Arnolfo “Arnie” Teves Jr. denied he and his brother, 2022 gubernatorial candidate, and Degamo’s rival, Pryde Henry Teves, had anything to do with Degamo’s slaying.

Teves said that neither he nor his brother would have benefitted politically from having Degamo killed as the vice governor, Carlo Jorge Joan Reyes, and not his brother was next in line for the post.

Stripped of win

Vice Governor Reyes has been sworn into office as the new governor.

If they wanted Degamo killed, they would have done it before the elections, Congressman Teves said.

He said that it was his brother, Henry, who won the Negros Oriental gubernatorial election only to be stripped of victory by the Commission on Elections which declared Degamo the winner.

The Supreme Court last 14 February affirmed the Comelec ruling that declared Degamo the duly elected governor vice Teves.

Charges of multiple murders, multiple frustrated murders, and illegal possession of firearms and explosives were filed Monday against the four suspects at the Negros Oriental Provincial Prosecutor’s Office.

Likewise, separate charges for illegal possession of firearms and explosives were filed at the Bayawan City Prosecutor’s Office since some of the firearms were found in Barangay Cansumalig in the city.

The charges were filed against Joric Labrador, 50, an ex-Army Ranger and resident of Cagayan de Oro City; Joven Aber, 42, ex-Army Ranger and resident of Barangay Robles in La Castellana, Negros Oriental; Benjie Rodriguez, 45, a native of Mindanao; and Osmundo Rivero, an ex-soldier from Zamboanga City.

It was not known at press time who among Labrador, Aber, Rodriguez and Rivero had agreed to be state witnesses.

However, Pelare said that all four suspects had given the name of the person who ordered the governor’s killing.

Meanwhile, the Philippine National Police’s Deputy Chief for Administration, Lt. Gen. Rhodel Sermonia, has been sent to Negros Oriental to oversee the reshuffling of PNP personnel in the region.

The police officers in the town where Degamo was killed would be the first to be replaced, but eventually, the entire police force in the province will be replaced, Secretary Abalos said.

The armed men on board several sport utility vehicles had easy access to the governor’s compound where they pre-positioned themselves before opening fire.

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