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Senate probe into spate of attacks vs local officials sought after Degamo death

A resolution seeking a Senate investigation into the recent spate of attacks against local government officials was filed after the assassination of Negros Oriental Governor Roel Degamo.

Senator Risa Hontiveros proposed Senate Resolution 518 "not only to exact justice for the victims, but also to identify the underlying drivers of the killings, particularly the failure and inaction of our institutions, especially our law enforcement agencies, to address political violence, as well as election-related violence.

"Such investigation will also help address the culture of impunity that gives rise to the growing brazenness of the method of the assassinations and/or attempted assassinations."

In her resolution, Hontiveros mentioned the Supreme Court's recent declaration of Degamo as the rightful winner of the gubernatorial race in Negros Oriental.

This, she said, made it "imperative to investigate whether or not the murder was a consequence of this chain of events."

She noted that this is not the first time that Negros Oriental "swept the headlines for incidents of political violence" which was "characterized not only by its brazenness but also by the complicity, if not active involvement, of men in the uniformed service."

The senator added that Degamo's killing comes at the heels of other political killings and attempted assassinations, particularly that of Cagayan Vice Mayor Rommel Almeda; the wounding of Lanao del Sur Governor Mamintal Adiong Jr. and Mayor Ohto Caumbo Montawal in Maguindanao del Sur; the killing of former Vice Mayor Daniel Amat of Dolores, Quezon Province; former Vice Mayor Romeo Sulit from Lobo, Batangas; and former Mayor Rosita Furigay of Lamitan City, Basilan.

In a statement, Hontiveros called on Malacanang to speak on this issue "beyond individual cases", adding that the killings were becoming "increasingly disturbing" due to some men in the uniformed service being implicated in the attacks.

“The virus of impunity continues to proliferate, and our state forces are heavily infected. How can the public trust killers masquerading as law enforcement? Who is giving the marching orders?” she asked.

“Huwag nating gawin normal ang patayan (Let's not normalize these assassinations). The past years have encouraged murder as a default way of silencing and manipulating. Our people are not just collateral damage of political agendas. It is time for a rude awakening for those who abuse their power. The government must take a strong stand as an institution to condemn these killings and to take concrete actions to end this savagery," she added.

Further, Hontiveros said there was a need for the Comelec to review its process on settling election-related disputes and violence.

“COMELEC’s processes have become increasingly ineffective and inefficient. The inordinate delay of COMELEC en banc rulings may have aggravated vindictiveness. Election-related killings tarnish the sanctity of our elections, which COMELEC is responsible for protecting. Their call of duty is beyond election day,” she said.

GMA News Online sought the comment of Comelec Chairman George Garcia on Hontiveros' statement, but he has yet to respond as of posting time.

‘Perceived to be weak’

Meanwhile, 15 senators filed a separate resolution condemning the series of attacks against local government officials and other private individuals.

In proposed Senate Resolution 517, the senators noted that aside from the Degamo killing, there were at least three more local executives who were injured or killed in ambushes in a span of 15 days from February 17 to March 3.

These incidents happened outside the victims' jurisdiction where the Philippine National Police's or Armed Forces of the Philippines' presence was "perceived to be weak by the assailants," the senators added.

Among the incidents that they mentioned were those against Adiong, Almeda, Montawal, Amat, Furigay, Sulit, former Dipaculao, Aurora Vice Mayor Narciso Amansec, and former Calbiga, Samar Mayor Miguel Abaigar Jr.

"Injustice and violence do not have a place in any civilized society and no cause justifies brutalities against the lives of all persons," the senators said.

"The Senate of the Philippines, in the strongest sense, urges the Philippine National Police and other law enforcement agencies to exert all efforts to bring the perpetrators to justice not only for the sake of all victims and their families, but to ensure that the rule of law is upheld at all times for an orderly and peaceful society," they added.

Senate Majority Leader Joel Villanueva led the filing of the resolution. He was joined by Senate President Juan Miguel Zubiri, Senate President Pro Tempore Loren Legarda, Senators Nancy Binay, Raffy Tulfo, Ronald dela Rosa, Francis Tolentino, Jinggoy Estrada, Bong Go, JV Ejercito, Grace Poe, Sonny Angara, Bong Revilla Jr., Sherwin Gatchalian, and Mark Villar.

Senate Resolution 517 was adopted by the chamber along with proposed Senate resolutions 520 and 521 which expressed profound sympathy and sincere condolences on the death of Degamo.

In sponsoring the resolution, Villanueva expressed his anger over the "shameless and barbaric" act against the Negros Oriental governor.

He emphasized that those who killed Degamo carried high-powered and high-end firearms.

"May resources po sila. Hindi po pwedeng sabihin na ito ay pipichugin. Hindi mo pwedeng na hindi ito parte ng isang isiping private army," Villanueva said.

"While we laud the efforts of our PNP sa pag-huli at pag-tugis sa mga perpetrators, we ask them, Mr. President, to be more proactive in protecting our public officials, in protecting our people. Hindi po maikakaila na planadong planado ang aktong pagpaslang kay Governor Degamo," he added.

Villanueva also called Degamo's death a "slap" on the government's face.

"We will go to the ends of the earth and back to end this culture of impunity. We will not allow heinous and abominable crimes to become our state of affairs. Our country will be ruled by laws, and basic human decency shall prevail," he added.

Meanwhile, Zubiri, who co-sponsored the resolution, compared Degamo's killing to terrorism.

"Clearly, lives were lost, and other victims suffered serious injuries during this ambush. And the crime committed is intended to 'intimidate the general public' and 'create an atmosphere of fear or spread a message of fear,' which qualifies the crime as an act of terrorism under our law. These perpetrators should be treated as terrorists, including the masterminds," he said.

Zubiri said these attacks should not be accepted as a normal part of our culture and let violence like this terrorize people and force Filipinos to live in fear.

He then urged the PNP to step up their efforts and prevent similar crimes from happening in the future.

"Nauubos na po ang tiwala ng taumbayan na kaya silang protektahan ng gobyerno. Every incident like this ambush is a failure of police intelligence, of police visibility, and of our peace and security efforts. We have already failed Gov. Degamo and his constituents. We cannot keep on failing, not when lives are at stake. So we call on the PNP to live up to their mandate, to serve and to protect the Filipino people," he said.

State of national emergency

In a separate statement, Senator Imee Marcos called for the declaration of a state of emergency in Negros Oriental following Degamo's death.

"Kailangan matigil at mahuli itong mga ito. Hindi lamang yung mga hitman o yung pumatay kundi yung mastermind, yung paymasters nila at kung sinuman ang nag-conspire para mangyari ito," Marcos said.

(The perpetrators need to be stopped and caught. Not just the hitmen or killers, but the masterminds, their paymasters, and whoever else they conspired with.)

Meanwhile, Senator Francis "Chiz" Escudero urged the government to use its intelligence funds in an "all-out-war" against gun-for-hire syndicates.

In a statement, Escudero said only the identification and dismantling of groups of hired killers can stop these assassinations, as he believed that Degamo's death was "among the many signs that paid killings is becoming a cottage industry in the Philippines.”

He said that some P5.22 billion in intelligence funds should be distributed across several agencies and should be tapped in creating an actionable database of these killers.

If these perpetrators have pending warrants of arrest and they are armed and dangerous, Escudero said their listing could be an "order of battle."

“Kaya kahit mahuli pa ang pumatay kay Governor Degamo, hindi garantiya ‘yan na walang kasunod kung merong mga kriminal na ginawang negosyo ang pagkitil ng buhay,” Escudero said.

(So even if Governor Degamo's killers are caught, there is no guarantee there won't be others if there are criminals who make a living out of assassinations.) 

“Killings eventually become a revolving door phenomenon if we do not neutralize the actors now and in the long run, fix the kinks in our justice system,” he added.

He also pointed out that there were numerous killings of ordinary people that merely "remain entries in police blotters."

“People get emboldened if they see murders go unsolved. Kapag hindi nahuli, it incentivizes future acts. Maraming nagsasabi na bakit pa ipa-papulis o magsasampa ng kaso na gagastos pa na meron naman shortcut. ‘Yan ang kalunus-lunos na katotohanan sa maraming lugar," Escudero said.

(If they aren't caught it incentivizes future acts. Many are asking, "Why bother calling the cops or filing a case? You'd just end up spending when there is a shortcut." That's the sad truth in many places.) — DVM, GMA Integrated News