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MANILA, Philippines – The Armed Forces of the Philippines is sending an elite unit of 50 soldiers to augment forces deployed in Negros island following the killing of Negros Oriental Governor Roel Degamo.
Defense Officer-in-Charge Senior Undersecretary Carlito Galvez Jr. and AFP Chief of Staff General Andres Centino made the announcement on Friday, March 10, saying the response stemmed from an order by President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. to “suppress all forms of lawless violence and restore peace and order in Negros island as soon as possible.”
“President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. gave his instruction to me last night to suppress the criminal activities and impunity in the entire island of Negros and to give justice to the families and loved ones of those who were slain in the assassination of Governor Roel Degamo and restore normalcy and confidence of our people,” Galvez said.
The 50 additional troops formed part of a light reaction company, a unit of soldiers with special training in counterterrorism operations. Together with two brigades already based in the area, the groups will be part of a joint task force formed to step up joint military and police operations, Centino said.
Centino said the joint task force would be headed by Brigadier General Marion Sison, commander of the 3rd Infantry Division. He will be assisted by two other brigade commanders, Brigadier General Leonardo Peña and Colonel Orlando Edralin.
The Light Reaction Company (LRC), meanwhile, had been deployed from Cotobato.
Asked why there was a need to deploy more forces to Negros, Galvez cited additional “cases” that had emerged and were being investigated by the government after Degamo’s killing. The Department of Justice earlier said it was looking at 10 more reports of killings in Negros Oriental.
He also said that the AFP was reorienting troops and aiding the police, after it saw the need for stronger security presence even outside of Negros Oriental.
“So kailangan natin talaga na ma-cordon ‘yung areas ng buong Negros island so they cannot escape from the island,” Galvez said. (So we need to cordon the area and the entire Negros island so they cannot escape from the island.)
Centino added that the joint task force would also initiate the movement of forces and, if needed, aid in establishing checkpoints.
“That is why it’s important that there is a task force, so there will be united command, united efforts. Also considering that, aside from those that are there already in Negros, we have additional forces to support our effort,” he said.
Earlier this week, Marcos visited Degamo’s wake, where he once again vowed to deliver justice and accountability in the local official’s killing. Degamo’s death, the President said, was “particularly terrifying.”
Degamo was earlier killed by heavily armed men – among them former soldiers dishonorably discharged from the Philippine Army – who barged into an aid distribution activity outside his residential compound in Pamplona town, Negros Oriental.
Responding to the incident, the Philippine Army said it was strengthening its counter-intelligence efforts to keep track of the activities of former troops, especially those with special training.
No state of emergency
Asked if the government planned to declare a state of emergency or martial law in Negros, Galvez said that the “degree of the event” could not yet be considered for either.
Actions taken were also done under the “calling out powers” of the President, Galvez said.
“We see the ongoing criminalities in Negros below what we would call a state of lawlessness. When we had discussions on our response, it needs to be calibrated. This is not what we would describe as overkill,” Galvez said in a mix of English and Filipino.
In an ambush interview with reporters, Centino also addressed questions on the threat level in Negros and whether an elite unit was needed to respond to these. The AFP chief said that the security situation could not yet be considered as a “state of emergency” or lawlessness, and that the deployment of an LRC was “for contingencies.”
“Were just deploying these elite units to support the ongoing operation, and in case contingencies will happen or exigencies, we will be able to respond,” he said.
Centino added that there would be no restrictions on the movement of residents in Negros, nor have directives been given to impose a curfew. Residents, however, should expect some checkpoints.
Degamo was the second incumbent government official killed under the Marcos administration. Five other former local officials have been killed since Marcos took office in end-June 2022. (READ: LIST: Local officials killed under Marcos gov’t) – Rappler.com