Rodrigo Duterte

[OPINION] Duterte’s shadow appears at Senate’s Degamo slay probe

Inday Espina-Varona

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[OPINION] Duterte’s shadow appears at Senate’s Degamo slay probe
'Nearly a year after he stepped down from the presidency, the shadow of Duterte continues to cast a long, dark shadow'

More than three weeks after the Senate committee on public order and dangerous drugs started hearings on the March 4 killing governor Roel Degamo and nine others in Negros Oriental, the shadow of former president Rodrigo Duterte stalked into the gurgling swampland of corruption, power play, and murder plots. 

A former aide of the slain governor, Philrose Antonette “Kitty” Torres, appeared on Wednesday, May 10. 

She claimed that unknown assailants had “strafed” the family house in Dumaguete City, in the early hours of April 21 – more than a month after Degamo’s killing. The alleged attack happened just hours after committee chair Senator Ronald “Bato” Dela Rosa adjourned a hearing on the Degamo case. 

Torres narrated her dramatic flight from Dumaguete to Dapitan, where she parked her children in chi-chi Dakak Resort before proceeding to Davao City to beg help from Duterte. 

The woman with the digital-age equivalent of a prized filofax, she messaged a senator and a former Cabinet official, before getting a Davao barangay captain identified by only one name, Lando, to connect her with Duterte.

Bizarre chat

She met with Duterte near midnight on the sidelines of a Davao prosecutor’s wake. 

Why take a grueling 14-hour drive to see Duterte? 

With the kind of cult-like reasoning we’ve heard over the last six years, Torres said, “Kay President Duterte, hindi ka pwede magsinungaling.” (You can’t lie to President Duterte.)

She spoke of a long meeting, from 11 pm to 2 am. She claimed to have presented him a folder full of damaging stuff about the slain governor and his widow, Pamplona Mayor Janice Degamo.

But true to the dangerous gibberish we’ve heard from Duterte, he reportedly told Torres, “Hindi na kailangan ‘yan. Nakita ko sa mga mata mo at sa asawa mo kung gaano ka sincere at totoo ang sinasabi mo.” (I don’t need that. I see in your eyes and the eyes of your husband sincerity and truth.)

He directed her to go to the Senate and talk to Dela Rosa, his former national police chief, and seek security for her family.

And just like that, she was in.

Suddenly meek

Dela Rosa has a reputation for roaring at resource persons for real or imagined infractions. He’s detained others for contempt. 

But this time around, the fact that not a squeak emerged from any of the warring Negros Oriental camps, or the Philippine National Police (PNP), about the alleged shooting incident, did not raise the hackles of Dela Rosa.

The senator’s theatrics sent out a message: he was ignorant of the April 21 attack, and also ignorant of the long meeting that Torres had in Davao with Duterte and his loyal sidekick – and Dela Rosa’s Senate colleague – Bong Go.

It would have been amusing if the stakes weren’t so high for the province with a population of 1,432,990 (2020).

There has been no word about Duterte banishing Dela Rosa to hell’s outer reaches, and any former national police chief worth his medals would have a network of informants across the country. 

Opposition Senator Risa Hontiveros, a civilian, can get documents and exposés about crimes in neighboring Southeast Asian countries. 

So it’s hard to buy into a scenario where everyone and their grandmothers hoodwink Dela Rosa by hiding a new act of violence in the capital city of Negros Occidental. Even if, as Torres claimed, the new Dumaguete police chief, Lt. Col. Ronoel Fungo, told her not to give interviews to the media. 

(The Negros Oriental media did not report on the incident. Torres also seems to be a mystery to them.)

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Sordid details, new spin

Senate hearings sometimes provide the opportunity for peddling what can’t be claimed in press releases.

All camps again shared sordid details: mayors with fast cars and past lives as customs brokers with Chinese-Filipino billionaire friends; pastors moonlighting as drivers, quasi-bodyguards, and political operators; the slain governor’s  philandering; e-sabong kickbacks and more e-sabong links; quarry operation fronts and the fast rise to wealth of former wards; misrepresentation in aid delivery; police on motorcycle joyrides with scions of a political dynasty. 

But at the Senate hearing on Wednesday, May 10, Torres brought a new spin. 

She called both the Teves and Degamo families as “warlords,” accusing them of ill-gotten wealth. Residents of the province have long said that, though they will only share in hushed tones, off-the-record.

What’s new is the sudden mention of Duterte, in yet another messianic role. 

Where evil rules, let him ride to the rescue. Let him order quick fixes.

Dela Rosa did not even blink when Torres demanded, with full-blown entitlement, that relatives in the police assigned to Cebu – where all questionable Negros Oriental cops seem to end up – be seconded as her detail.

Earlier, she claimed that even Degamo threw himself at her mercy, acknowledging her friendship and influence over the police. Why an aide would enjoy that is anybody’s guess. 

But Torres is clearly a woman of connections. 

The Degamo widow pointed out that she and her late husband had tried several times to seek an audience with Duterte when he was still in power. No dice. While the Pamplona mayor is also prone to imperious, over-reaching behavior, other sources have confirmed this particular claim. 

Duterte had actually made Degamo, then governor, twiddle his thumbs as the national leader held a closed-door peace and order meeting in 2019 with provincial and regional senior law enforcers. 

Mayor Janice said she was near confirming who allowed Torres an audience with Duterte. Very few people enjoy the same kind of access to both Teves and the former president, she added.

That’s hardly news either. While thousands of poor Filipinos died in Duterte’s mad pogrom, suspected drug lords, gambling lords, and their alleged protectors have waltzed away from the law because of their friendship with the former president. 

Nearly a year after he stepped down from the presidency, the shadow of Duterte continues to cast a long, dark shadow. –

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