Philippine top court allows transfer of cases linked to governor’s killing

BenarNews staff
Philippine top court allows transfer of cases linked to governor’s killing Catholic nuns attend the wake for Negros Oriental Gov. Roel Degamo at his home in Dumaguete city, Negros Oriental province, central Philippines, March 6, 2023.
Alan Tangcawan/AP

The Philippine Supreme Court on Tuesday granted the government’s request to transfer all cases related to the killing of Negros Oriental’s governor to a Manila court after the Justice Department cited a “hostile environment” on the island.

This was a rare transfer request, which the court granted saying it would help provide a fair trial. President Ferdinand Marcos Jr., a political ally of the slain governor, had promised there would be justice for the politically related March 4 killing.

“The Supreme Court … granted the request of Justice Secretary Jesus Crispin C. Remulla for the transfer to the Regional Trial Court of Manila of the cases filed in connection with the killing of Negros Oriental Gov. Roel R. Degamo,” the court said in a statement.  

“A change of venue to Manila would be in the best interest of all parties involved” and it “will provide a neutral venue where the trial can be conducted fairly and impartially, free from any undue influence or bias,” a Supreme Court briefer said.

Degamo, 56, was killed by a group of 10 armed men who barged into his residence in central Negros Oriental province, in what is considered to be one of the most brazen politically related attacks in recent times. He was the apparent target, although eight other people, including constituents, were killed.

In his request, Remulla cited three reasons for the transfer request: the “hostile environment” in the province owing to the high-profile nature of the case; “political complexion” that could lead to intimidation and harassment of those involved in the cases; and logistical difficulties.

Previously, Remulla said his department was investigating three or four masterminds being responsible for the crime. While those suspects were not named, police have said that they were considering Degamo’s political enemies.

Prosecutors have filed murder and frustrated murder charges against four named suspects – three of whom were former Army personnel – and 12 unnamed persons before the Tanjay City Regional Trial Court in the province. Three counts of illegal possession of firearms, ammunition, and explosives were also filed against three suspects at the Bayawan City Regional Trial Court in the same province. 

Four suspects are in custody, according to officials.

“The respondents are currently detained at the NBI Custodial Center in Manila since the facilities in the province may not be adequate to handle a high-profile case like this, and there could be security issues with the transportation and handling of the respondents,” Remulla said, according to the court document.

Military deployments

The Philippine military, responding to an order from President Marcos, has deployed a counterterrorism unit to the island of Negros following Degamo’s killing. Fifty troops from the Light Reaction Company, the Philippine Army’s premier counterterrorism unit, were deployed to hunt suspects.

Remulla had said the department was looking into at least 10 reports of killings in Negros Oriental, adding there was an apparent “pattern of immunity.” 

Reports of more killings surfaced when Marcos and other national officials attended Degamo’s wake as local politicians and residents complained about crimes.

Following the killing, Negros Oriental Rep. Arnolfo Teves Jr., a political rival of Degamo, claimed his followers had no involvement in the attack. In a Facebook video posted on March 6, Teves said he expected that he and his brother would be blamed.

Teves faces a murder complaint in relation to at least three killings in the province in 2019. The Philippine National Police-Criminal Investigation and Detection Group last week raided Teves’ properties in a search for firearms.

His lawyers have since questioned the action and claimed the confiscated firearms were surrendered to the police as early as January.

House Speaker Martin Romualdez said he had asked Teves, who has been in the United States, to return home to face the allegations, adding Teves’ travel authority had expired.

On Tuesday, Romualdez told reporters that he talked on Monday with Teves who refused to return to the Philippines over fear for his and his family’s safety.

Jeoffrey Maitem in Manila contributed to this report.


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