An "organization" of seven to 10 people may be behind the killings in Negros Oriental that the government is currently investigating, Justice Secretary Jesus Crispin Remulla said on Friday.
"We are looking at a group of people, an organization within Negros Oriental that is possibly involved in this," Remulla told reporters in an ambush interview.
"Maybe a group of seven to ten people may be involved here in the murders that we are talking about," he said.
The government is investigating the killings following the March 4 assassination of Governor Roel Degamo, who was shot dead in his residence along with several others.
Remulla earlier said officials have noticed a "pattern of immunity" in the province. On Friday, he said it is possible that the suspects behind the killings may “intersect at some point” or “may have a lot in common” with the suspects involved in the Degamo assassination.
At present, 10 suspects in the killing of Degamo are under custody of the National Bureau of Investigation. Remulla earlier said authorities are also looking into five to six “direct conspirators” in the killing of Degamo.
Pamplona Mayor Janice Degamo, widow of the slain governor, said almost 30 people have been allegedly killed by the camp of recently-suspended Negros Oriental Representative Arnolfo “Arnie” Teves Jr., who is being linked to the assassination after arrested suspects pointed to a “Cong. Teves” as the one who ordered the hit.
Teves has denied involvement in the assassination while his lawyer, Atty. Ferdinand Topacio, said he will not dignify the "atrocious allegations" of Mayor Degamo.
"I refuse to dignify such atrocious allegations. Baka puyat lang si Mayor. Why bring that up only now? Why not file cases in court?" Topacio told GMA News Online on Friday.
Remulla said he and Mayor Degamo discussed the alleged murders in the province during a meeting at the Department of Justice on Wednesday. He said their initial information revealed 17 victims.
“But there are more names coming up. But as I said we have to build up cases, we have to get the data, we have to investigate them systematically to get the necessary data,” Remulla said.
“Because many of the preliminary investigations for these cases never materialized, so we need to build them up from scratch,” he later added.
The Justice Secretary said they are eyeing to file the cases over the killing of Degamo by March 30 or 31.
However, he said he does not know yet if Teves will be among the respondents.
"We will look at the extent of it because if the case will be filed it will still undergo preliminary investigation except for those who voluntarily gave statements, which we can already submit to the court for further action,” he said.
"But for those who are not yet present under the current rules, preliminary investigation will have to… be pursued, to build up cases against other people who are not yet in custody or who have not yet submitted to the jurisdiction of the DOJ and to the courts," Remulla added.
When asked to confirm rumors that Teves is in Cambodia, Remulla said he received the same information a few days ago.
"That was the statement given to us a few days ago, maybe ten days ago. But we’ll see. We will know very soon kung saan," he said.
Degamo and eight others were killed while several others were injured after an attack at the governor’s home on March 4.
Teves is being linked to the killing after suspects in the assassination pointed to a certain “Cong. Teves” as the one who ordered the hit. Teves, for his part, has said that he and his brother are not involved. —KBK/RSJ, GMA Integrated News