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MANILA, Philippines – Over 60 families of victims of unsolved killings shared their brushes with brutality on Tuesday, April 18, the second day of the Senate committee on public order and dangerous drugs’ hearing on the March 4 killing of Governor Roel Degamo.
Senator Ronald “Bato” dela Rosa, committee chairperson, claiming the province had experienced “500 murders in a span of five years for an average of 100 killings a year,” called it a “reign of terror”.
Pamplona Mayor Janice Degamo, the widow of the slain governor, brought in the victims, including survivors of murder attempts.
Their stories had a common thread: the refusal of police, and some of the local courts, to investigate or act upon threats or crimes.
“Together, we will speak the truth about how the people of Negros Oriental suffered in silence in the face of tyranny, of oppression, of violence, of impunity, and of the excessive abuse of power and influence of the same people who masterminded the Negros massacre,” Degamo said.
Saying the testimonies gave “a heartbreaking picture,” dela Rosa said he would continue with hearings “to shed light on why such violence appears to be given free reign in what appears to be a very beautiful province.”
Interestingly, the former national police chief of then president Rodrigo Duterte, who ruled during Negros Oriental’s hemorrhage, said “at this point, motive is irrelevant.”
During the first day of the hearing, Justice Secretary Jesus Crispin “Boying” Remulla claimed “the activities that led to the killings of March 4, all are covered under the Anti-Terror Law: The recruitment, the financing, the purchase of firearms, the distribution of firearms.”
Among those who testified were barbecue stall owners Anthony Jason Ong and Sandy Tinguha who survived by fighting back during a 2021 attack in Dumaguete City.
Sherwin Lee Diangco’s father “Biyok,” an employee of the provincial government, was shot 19 times in 2020.
Gina Palma, who worked with the Degamos as a community coordinator for their medical assistance programs, said her son was killed in 2022 because of her association with the governor.
In many of the testimonies, the witnesses strongly hinted or outright claimed that the Teves’ were behind the murders or murder attempts.
Dela Rosa expressed disappointment at the many police lapses in the handling killings even before the Degamo assassination.
In the case of Palma, she said there was a police officer nearby who refused to help because it was his day off.
Some witnesses reported the refusal of police to even take basic blotter reports from victims of crimes.
“There seems to be a breakdown in the criminal justice system diyan sa Negros Oriental,” dela Rosa said.
Dela Rosa also hinted at possible corruption among prosecutors.
Former Governor Pryde Henry Teves also attended on the second day of the hearing. He did not make an opening statement.
He also did not respond to Janice Degamo’s opening statement, which accused the Teves brothers, including suspended Negros Oriental 3rd District representative, of having a hand in hundreds of killings across the province.
The hearing will extend to Wednesday, April 19.
Dela Rosa said he wants the local police to explain the accusations that they either let cases of killings go stale – if not actively help cover them up. He also wants to call other former police personalities who were reportedly connected to these crimes.
At least one of the guns used in the assassination of Negros Oriental Governor Roel Degamo disappeared while in the custody of the local police and ended up in the hands of the suspects in the killing, according to the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) – Rappler.com