Negros Oriental rebounds from political turmoil, security threats

People line up in front of the Capitol in Dumaguete City, Negros Oriental, for free ice cream during the Dec. 10, 2023 Christmas Tree lighting activity. Despite the political turmoil and violence that marred the province this year with the assassination of Gov. Roel Degamo, Negros Oriental is now recovering from the negative effects of that unprecedented attack that killed nine other people on March 4.
People line up in front of the Capitol in Dumaguete City, Negros Oriental, for free ice cream during the Dec. 10, 2023 Christmas Tree lighting activity. Despite the political turmoil and violence that marred the province this year with the assassination of Gov. Roel Degamo, Negros Oriental is now recovering from the negative effects of that unprecedented attack that killed nine other people on March 4. PNA photo

DUMAGUETE CITY – As the year 2023 comes to an end, Negros Oriental is showing signs of recovery from a series of events that rocked the province following the assassination of Governor Roel Degamo in March.

Edward Du, president of the Negros Oriental Chamber of Commerce and Industry (NOCCI), believes that the province is now “politically stable” and the peace and order that was marred by violence early on has now improved significantly.

These are some conditions that set the stage for a better year in 2024, amidst all that had happened in the province this year, Du pointed out.

“The political climate in Negros Oriental has now stabilized and peace and order a lot better, with the province being touted by the police as the 4th peaceful province in the Philippines,” Du noted.

Du said business is brisk, the economy is relatively stable, tourist arrival is on the rise, and hopefully, and more investors are expected next year.

Political turmoil

The generally peaceful province of Negros Oriental suddenly trembled after the March 4 violence in Pamplona town, where Degamo was killed while distributing government aid at his residence.

Nine others were killed and 16 injured when heavily armed men barged into the governor’s residential compound and opened fire in broad daylight.

Suspects were arrested soon after the attack, and more alleged perpetrators later fell into the hands of authorities.

The succeeding events saw the province under the spotlight, with government security forces scrambling to prevent further violence in what is now believed to be a “politically motivated” attack against Degamo.

Investigation pinpointed then-Rep. Arnolfo Teves Jr. as the alleged mastermind in the killing of the governor.

The former 3rd district congressman was expelled afterward from Congress, in an unprecedented move, for a variety of reasons, including his continued absence deemed unauthorized after failing to return to the Philippines after his official leave had expired.

Last September, the Department of Justice filed murder charges against Teves before a regional trial court that later issued an arrest warrant against him.

Teves is supposedly in East Timor where he sought political asylum as the Anti-Terrorist Council declared him and his brother, former Gov. Pryde Henry Teves, as terrorists.

The lawmaker, through his legal counsels, has repeatedly denied the charges against him.

Threat to security, peace and order

The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and the Philippine National Police (PNP) created Joint Task Force Negros after the deadly attack in Pamplona to ensure public safety and prevent violence from possibly escalating, as some suspects were still on the loose.

Army soldiers and police personnel from outside of Negros Oriental were deployed to the province, imposing stricter security measures such as mobile and static checkpoints and patrol operations.

As the province geared up for the Oct. 30 Barangay and Sangguniang Kabataan Elections (BSKE), the Commission on Elections (Comelec) conducted a series of public hearings in the province in June to determine the safety and security of the voters and other stakeholders.

After Teves’ expulsion, House Speaker Martin Romualdez was named caretaker of the 3rd congressional district of Negros Oriental until a replacement was elected.

The Comelec set the date for a special election for 3rd district representative on Dec. 9. However, just days after the filing of Certificates of Candidacy for the said polls, the Comelec canceled the political exercise in response to the House call to reconsider.

Three governors in a year

In yet another unprecedented situation, the province of Negros Oriental has had three governors in a single year, following the murder of Degamo.

Degamo had just returned to the Capitol in October 2022 following a controversial victory over Comelec-proclaimed winner Pryde Henry Teves in the May 9 national elections that year.

Teves garnered the highest votes in that political race, with Degamo coming in second.

But a ruling on the election protest involving a nuisance bet, Ruel Degamo, turned the tide after his votes were later credited to the incumbent governor-candidate namesake, making the latter the winner over Teves.

Degamo served for only about five months until his death and was succeeded thereafter by then Vice-Governor Carlo Jorge Reyes, his running mate in the 2022 polls.

Reyes, who was battling a terminal illness, carried out his functions as governor but died about three months later in May.

He was succeeded by Manuel L. Sagarbarria, who was first elected as a Board Member in 2022, then became vice governor, and eventually governor by rule of succession.

Unity is the way forward

Sagarbarria, after taking oath as governor of Negros Oriental, buckled down to work immediately, calling for unity among all political and other sectors for the province to bounce back from the effects of the Pamplona massacre.

Except for two “confidential positions” at the Capitol, Sagarbarria announced a status quo, and issued a “return to barracks” to all provincial government employees who were transferred in the previous administrations.

Later on, some changes were also made involving some heads of offices, but Sagarbarria repeatedly said that he would be working closely with them as he lined up programs and projects that would propel the province on the road to reconciliation and recovery.

His priority at the start of the administration was health care as he instituted measures, poured in funds, and approved building construction to improve the province’s health care facilities and services, such as the new dialysis center.

Subsequently, he revived the Buglasan Festival of Festivals, a yearly celebration of the province’s socioeconomic, culture, and the arts showcase while also embarking on an expanded tourism road map that would tap destinations in the northern part of the province never before explored or promoted.

Sustained peace and order and stability

As the province continues to inch forward to a more peaceful and safer environment, police provincial director Col. Ronan Claravall said this cannot be done single-handedly by government security forces alone.

Claravall credited the recent accomplishment of the Negros Oriental Police Provincial Office (NOPPO) to the support and cooperation of the public.

“First of all, I would like to thank the Negrosanons for helping us, guiding us, and collaborating with us in maintaining peace and order in Negros Oriental,” he said.

This year, NOPPO was declared the second-best police provincial office, next to the province of Siquijor in Central Visayas. It is also vying for the top spot at the national level due to exemplary accomplishments this year, said Lt. Stephen Polinar, NOPPO spokesperson.

Claravall said the crime volume of Negros Oriental dropped this year.

One of the significant accomplishments during his term was a police operation that led to the death of Alex Mayagma, an alleged member of the purported Teves Terrorist Group, who was named as among the suspects in the death of former Board Member Miguel Dungog.

He assured that the police are capable of sustaining the current peace and order situation in the province. (PNA)

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