Elite troops deployed to central Philippine island following killings

Camille Elemia
Elite troops deployed to central Philippine island following killings A Philippine police Special Action Force member stands guard in front of the municipal hall in Pamplona town in Negros Oriental a day after provincial Gov. Roel Degamo and eight others were killed in a mass shooting, March 5, 2023.
Ferdinand Edralin/AFP

Responding to an order from the president, the Philippine military has deployed a counterterrorism unit to combat criminality on the island of Negros following the killing of a provincial governor last week, officials said Friday.

Fifty troops from the Light Reaction Company, the Philippine Army’s premier counterterrorism unit, were deployed to hunt suspects in the shooting of Negros Oriental Gov. Roel Degamo. The same unit was deployed in 2017 to aid in the defeat of Islamic State-linked rebels who occupied the city of Marawi in the southern Philippines. 

“President Ferdinand R. Marcos Jr. gave his instruction to me last night to suppress criminal activities and impunity in the entire island of Negros and give justice to the families and loved ones of those who were slain … and restore normalcy and confidence of the people in the area,” Defense Secretary Carlito Galvez Jr. told reporters during a Friday briefing. 

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

“I think that a lot of people are coming out with information about past cases, but we have to process them properly. We have to look at the evidence. We have to look at the statements. But we’ll look at them one by one,” Remulla told reporters during a separate interview on Friday. 

At least three suspects in custody for Degamo’s killing were dishonorably discharged from the army, Remulla said, adding that law enforcers are seeking more than a dozen additional suspects. The attack killed a total of nine people and injured 17 others.


Degamo was meeting with local people at his official residence on March 4 when a group of about 10 armed men clad in battle gear arrived, demanding to speak with him and then opening fire on people inside the compound. Degamo was rushed to a hospital but died hours later.

Galvez said the elite unit was needed because of this and other “emerging cases.” He said many local government officials and residents had spoken up about other crimes in the province when Marcos attended Degamo’s wake on Wednesday. 

“The president wants to completely eliminate the threat from the gun-for-hire [scheme] that we saw has existed in Negros Oriental for a long time,” Galvez said. 

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.

Degamo assumed the governorship after a recount unseated his rival, Pryde Henry Teves, who had been declared the victor following a contentious election in June 2022, according to AFP.

“In all crimes, the investigator or police first look for who is most likely, has a motive or has something to gain from the incident,” Teves said in the post. 

“What would be the motive if I carried it out now? Neither I nor my brother would be the beneficiaries because it’s the vice governor who will take over,” Teves said. 

Meanwhile, House Speaker Martin Romualdez called on Teves, who is vacationing in the United States, to return to the Philippines “as soon as possible,” adding that government authorization for his travel outside the country expired on Thursday.

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



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