Roel Degamo

[Be The Good] In Negros, a bloody day remembered

Pia Ranada

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[Be The Good] In Negros, a bloody day remembered

Nico Villarete/Rappler

'Justice remains elusive, not just for Degamo, but for the red-tagged lawyers, journalists, students, and hacienda workers and farmers murdered on the island'

There is nothing more chilling to a community than a culture of violence. 

On March 4, 2024, we are reminded of this by the first anniversary of the brazen murder of Negros Oriental Governor Roel Degamo.

Around breakfast time, Degamo and nine others were shot down by men carrying high-powered guns in his own residence in Pamplona town, Negros Oriental.

The alleged mastermind, no less than a former district representative, is a fugitive on foreign soil, after being declared a terrorist by the Philippine government. Disgraced politician Arnolfo Teves was found by authorities to have led a group that had everything from an organizational structure to operational funding. One other supposed member of the group bore his last name.

But the Degamo slay is just one of the most high-profile of killings that have long stained the Visayan island’s sugar cane fields and small town streets.

It was just a headline-grabbing manifestation of what Bishop Gerry Alminaza of the Diocese of San Carlos City rightly called a “violence-prone political culture.”

Justice remains elusive, not just for Degamo, but for the red-tagged lawyers, journalists, students, and hacienda workers and farmers murdered on the island. 

Alminaza, Erwin Delilan writes, has called for more effective gun regulation to end “gun culture,” disbanding private armies, and stopping the “bodyguard system.” Political dynasties have long benefited from this culture of violence. They should go too, says the religious leader.

Violence needs the right conditions to breed. In Negros Island, poverty, hunger, and land conflicts have provided fertile soil for the culture of violence and impunity to take root.

At no other time was this more evident than during the dictatorship of the current president’s father. Veteran journalist Inday Espina-Varona wrote that, in the 1980s, Negros was the “apex of brutality and corruption” under the Marcos regime.

Horrific images of Negros’ starved children emerged from a time when Marcos Sr.’s cronies plundered the island’s sugar industry. Bankrupt sugar producers abandoned their estates, leaving an estimated 190,000 sugar workers without income. 

The country’s sugar bowl exploded with violence. Soldiers and private armies of Marcos cronies gunned down an untold number of civilians, amid mass protests against government repression and corruption.

Justice for the slain and addressing the social ills that fuel bloodshed are necessary steps that the new Marcos in Malacañang must take. While President Marcos remains cynical about whether the International Criminal Court should probe his predecessor’s Davao drug killings, justice remains elusive for the families of the slain. 

And in Negros, communities continue to fear impunity because no concrete steps have been taken to undo the systems that have allowed violence to take root. –

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Pia Ranada

Pia Ranada is Rappler’s Community Lead, in charge of linking our journalism with communities for impact.