DUMAGUETE CITY, Negros Oriental -- Mother and son, Loreta and Marco Antonio Armentano, trooped to the Provincial Capitol grounds in this city on Saturday, March 11, just a few days before Negros Oriental Governor Roel Degamo will be laid to rest at his hometown of Siaton.
Sixty-one-year-old Loreta, who is from neighboring Valencia town, said that this is the fourth time they have visited the wake of the governor, whom she described as a pro-people.
She said that the governor never failed his people, "he always helps the poor, and gives assistance to the needy, especially the senior citizens," she said in a melancholy tone.
"Buotan siya (he’s kind)," Loreta said, adding that she was hoping to catch a ride to Siaton town so they could attend the burial of the people’s official on Thursday, March 16. "We will find a way," she said in vernacular, as she is still reeling from the death of her governor.
Degamo was shot to death on March 4 in his residential compound in Pamplona town, where his wife was its mayor, while he was meeting with his constituents.
The gruesome attack also left eight civilians dead and 17 others injured.
Nyrth Christian Degamo, the late governor’s nephew and Board Member of the province’s 2nd district, was overwhelmed with the support of the people from Negros Oriental to their family.
"Bisan wala na siya, daghan bisita...mayo gid na tawo. Daghang na tabangan (Even if he is not here, many have came...he’s a good man. He helped a lot of people)," he said.
He recalled that when the slain governor was still a councilor, he used to give his constituents fish from their family business. "Whatever they catch from the sea, he will give it to the people," he said in a mix of Cebuano and Filipino.
He said that Degamo was "very kind and loved his job. He loves serving the people. That’s why people around him supported him until his death."
The first-term official said that it was the slain governor who taught him a lot in public service, "not only how to talk in front of people, but how to approach people."
"He would always tell me to be kind and respectful, especially to the elderly, especially to those who need help," the younger Degamo said, adding that is the most valuable lesson he learned from his uncle.
"He made a lot of impact on my life," the board member said.
Nyrth Degamo said he had just arrived at the governor’s residence a few minutes earlier when the gruesome gun attack happened on that fateful day.
He said he saw his uncle attending to his constituents while he tried to park his vehicle at the upper portion of the compound.
He said he was walking to the site where the governor was with his wife and kids when they heard the gunshots. This prompted them to run for their lives and hide at the residence.
"All of us panicked. We already have a hunch. What we feared has actually happened," he said in vernacular.
He said that due to security protocols, they have to stay behind.
He recalled that they "prayed and prayed" until the threat cleared.
"I heard from a handheld radio from the bodyguard of Mayor Janice - a very faint voice. I heard the governor say ‘tabang mga tawo’ (help the people)," Nyrth Degamo said, clutching his heart.
He said that doctors tried to revive the governor at the hospital, but due to a loss of blood and the shrapnel that punctured his heart, he succumbed to the shooting.
According to the results of an autopsy conducted by the Philippine National Police's regional forensic unit, the governor sustained 11 bullet wounds in his body, with the one to his heart proved to be the most fatal.
Nyrth Degamo said that he would continue serving the people, the way his uncle would want him to do, "I’m not thinking of running for a higher position, I just want to help people even if I’m not in politics," he said.
"If I give up because of this, my uncle in heaven won’t be happy. So I will do my best, so he will be happy—that he didn’t make a wrong choice by letting me run as a public official of Negros Oriental," he said.
On Thursday, March 16, the slain official was laid to rest in his hometown Siaton in a family mausoleum. He was buried alongside his parents and sister.
According to the police, at least 10,000 people came out to pay their last respects to the governor. They were ferried by Ceres buses to the funeral site.
Mourners and supporters, clad in white shirts, cried, "Justice! Justice! Justice!"
Malacañang declared the day of his funeral a special non-working holiday to allow the residents to pay their last respects to Degamo.
In a mass at St. Vincent Ferrer Parish, Bishop Julio Cortes of the Diocese of Dumaguete said: "We pray that the cycle of violence and unsolved killings in Negros Oriental will end."
He also said that the governor’s death has brought the people together to fight against the culture of impunity.
As of now, four suspects, who were former soldiers, in the gun attack have been charged and are in the custody of the Department of Justice.
Another assailant, who was said to be a former New People's Army rebel, was killed in a shootout by pursuing troops.
Negros Oriental Representative Arnolfo "Arnie" Teves Jr. was tagged as the mastermind in the killing of the governor and the innocent civilians, according to the statement of the suspects in a media interview in Manila.
The congressman’s brother ran against Degamo during the May 2022 local and national elections and was proclaimed the winner until the Commission on Elections overturned his victory.
Nineteen days later, after the Comelec and the Supreme Court upheld Degamo’s electoral win in 2022 as the Negros Oriental governor, unseating Pryde Henry Teves, he was gunned down in broad daylight.
Philippine National Police Chief General Rodolfo Azurin Jr. admitted that there was "negligence" on the part of the police in relation to the assassination of Degamo.
Azurin said he has already ordered the command group to investigate the security lapses of the local police.
It was later revealed that five out of the six police escorts of Degamo did not show up for duty on the day he was assassinated.
Speaker Ferdinand Martin Romualdez said that the governor had earlier reported to the police about the threats to his life, so it stands to reason that his security detail should have implemented stricter measures to ensure his safety.
He stressed, "That's why it’s highly suspicious why these police escorts were missing on the day he was killed."
DAY OF RECKONING
Pamplona Mayor Janice Degamo, wife of the slain governor, expressed her appreciation to the officials for their swift response to the situation.
"It has given us a ray of hope that soon we will be able to see justice," she said, adding that she expressed her gratitude to President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. for personally visiting them and assuring the people of Negros that justice will be served.
Mayor Degamo stressed that unmasking the culprit and mastermind will bring peace again to the once peaceful province.
Defense Secretary Carlito Galvez Jr. assured the continued support of the national government in suppressing lawless violence in Negros Oriental.
"Under the orders of Marcos, they have organized a Joint Task Force to step up the joint law enforcement operations to implement the clear directive of the President to ensure that such incidents do not happen again," Galvez said in a press conference at the wake of Governor Degamo on March 11.
He said the joint task force aims to speed up the suppression of impunity on the entire island, and give justice to the families and loved ones of those who were slain in the attack .
He also said that one of the instructions of the President is to dismantle all the tentacles of violence in the area.
"With that said, there is always a time for reckoning, and this day is that time," he added.
Checkpoints have been put up in 21 areas in Negros Oriental following the redeployment of troops on March 12.
At least 50 elite forces from the Light Reaction Company of the Armed Forces of the Philippines’ Special Operations Command were deployed to help with the government’s efforts to suppress lawless violence.
Lieutenant Colonel Gerard Ace Pelare, spokesperson for Special Investigation Task Group (SITG) Degamo, said the continued search for the suspects who are still at large is the reason for the military and police presence on Negros Island.
They believe that the suspects have not yet left Negros.
Ka Maoche Legislador, spokesperson of the NPA’s Apolinario Gatmaitan Command, condemned the brazen massacre of Degamo and eight others.
"It was an act of violence that demonstrated the systemic culture of impunity in Negros that was cemented by Duterte in 2018 when he ordered the deployment of additional AFP troops to the island...to commit widespread violence and mount attacks against the people," he said.
He added, "These state forces are the perpetrators of over a hundred extrajudicial killings, especially of Negrosanon peasants and activists. They use violence to strike fear among the people and suppress the people's legitimate struggles for their basic rights and welfare."
He said that not one of the victims had been given justice by the Duterte regime.
He said, "The hunt for suspects in the Degamo slay is mere justification for another round of deployment of troops to Negros Island...the existing de facto martial law terrorizing Negrosanons will only worsen along with increasing extrajudicial killings and other forms of human rights violations."
The AGC-NPA directed all its guerrilla fronts to "stay alert against military attacks."
For Nyrth Degamo, he hopes that the death of his uncle will be the last in his beloved province, as he expects that they will finally achieve peace and order.*