By ALFRED GABOT, Editor in Chief
PASAY CITY – Visibly irked by the continued attempt of suspended Negros Oriental Rep. Arnolfo Teves to elude investigation and possible arrest by not returning home , the Senate started looking into the possibility of imposing military control over the province as more cases of killings, mostly unsolved, continue to surface.
To prevent the social volcano in Negros Oriental from exploding due to the crimes and abuses there, a “military takeover” there maybe enforced, according to Sen. Robinhood “Robin” C. Padilla at the Senate hearing on the murder of Negros Oriental Gov. Roel Degamo.
Padilla, who likened the situation in the province to a volcano waiting to explode, said the Constitution allows the takeover by the Armed Forces of the Philippines if needed, and if authorized by the President.
Senator Francis N. Tolentino, meanwile, is pushing for the postponement of the upcoming Barangay and Sangguniang Kabataan elections in Negros Oriental amidst current peace and order situation in the province.
Tolentino made the proposal during the continuation of the inquiry of the Senate Committee on Public Order and Dangerous Drugs on the recent assassination of former Governor Roel Degamo as well other pending violence-related cases in Negros Oriental.
Tolentino, chairman of the Senate Committee on Justice and Human Rights, warned that the present political atmosphere in Negros Oriental may lead to further chaos, especially if the Barangay and SK polls should proceed in the province this coming last week of October.
The lawmaker from Cavite asked the leadership of the Senate panel chaired by Senator Ronald ‘Bato’ dela Rosa to once again invite, in the next scheduled hearing, Comelec Chairman George Erwin Garcia in connection with the proposal.
Justice Secretary Jesus Crispin Remulla, meanwhile said the legal process to formally designate Negros Oriental Rep. Arnolfo Teves as a fugitive terrorist has been initiated as he criticizes the latter’s refusal to return to the country and face accusations of his involvement in a series of high profile murders.
“Ang tao kasing guilty iiwas talaga yan. Kahit ano pa sabihin nya, humarap sya. Kung wala siyang kasalanan, humarap siya (A person who is racked by guilt will not come out in public. Whatever he claims if he is not guilty, he should come out. If he is as innocent as he claims, he should face the accusations),” Remulla said.
“Gumagalaw na (It is now moving). We’re moving on it .We’re starting the preliminary movements. Yung mga kailangan kausapin kinakausap na (We have already talked to those whom we need to talk with),” he said
Remulla said the government’s latest plan to bring the lawmaker back to the country may proceed even if the latter has not yet been formally charged in connection with the March 4 murder of Negros Oriental Governor Roel Degamo, which also claimed the lives of eight others and dozens injured.
He said the pending charges of illegal possession of firearms and explosives is sufficient to buttress the government’s plan to designate him as terrorist.
Criminal charges in connection with the deaths in Negros Oriental dating back to 2019 has also been filed against Teves who was a key backer of online cockfighting in the country, which was legal at the time.
Remulla said information they received as to sightings of Teves in Korea may be plausible but the information suggests the lawmaker regularly shuttles back and forth to Cambodia.
Degamo’s widow, Pamplona town Mayor Janice Degamo, welcomed the proposition made by Tolentino, saying that it will definitely help pacify the current political climate in her province. Earlier, Mayor Degamo said he supports the proposal that the military takeover the reins of law enforcement in Negros Oriental due to so many unsolved killings.
Tolentino earlier asked the Department of Justice (DOJ) to set-up a Special Prosecution Task Force in Negros Oriental which will help hasten the progress of violence-related cases pending before various trial courts in the said province.
Mayor Janice Degamo told the Senate hearing that she agreed that a military takeover in Negros Oriental might help, saying she wants an end to impunity in the province. She, however, opposed the possible declaration of martial law in her province.
Neophyte Senator Padilla asked officials at the hearing if it was time for President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. to authorize the military to take control of the province.
He said the Chief Executive can do so under Article 7, Section 18 of the Constitution, which states that “the President shall be the Commander-in-Chief of all armed forces of the Philippines and whenever it becomes necessary, he may call out such armed forces to prevent or suppress lawless violence, invasion or rebellion.”
“Sa palagay ninyo ‘di pa ito napapanahon sa Negros Oriental?(Do you think it is time for this in Negros Oriental?)” he asked, noting there were many other victims of other crimes in the province seeking aid during the Senate hearing on Tuesday.
He added that aside from the murder of the governor, there have been many other victims of other crimes including those merely seeking aid.
“Masukal po ang mga usaping ito ngunit sa lahat ng testimonya, damdamin, at emosyong bumuhos sa ating pagdinig, hindi po nawawala ang tampok na problema: ang kawalan ng tiwala sa ating kapulisan, ang patuloy na impunity sa Negros, at ang pagsira sa pangalan ng institusyon dahil sa mga scalawag o kalawang na patuloy na sumisira sa pundasyon ng PNP (Based on the testimonies and emotions from earlier hearings, the problem remains – the loss of trust in our police, the continued impunity in Negros, and the tarnishing of the name of our Philippine National Police),” he said.
“Ang mga indibidwal na ito ay minsang pinagkatiwalaan ng tungkuling pangalagaan ang ating bansa, sinanay at ginastusan ng gobyerno para magsilbi sa publiko. Ang paggamit po ng kanilang kadalubhasaan upang isagawa ang gayong kasuklam-suklam na krimen ay hindi po katanggap-tanggap (These individuals are trusted and trained to protect the people. Their use of their skills to commit such heinous crimes is unacceptable),” he added.
Mayor Janice Degamo said she agrees with Padilla that a “military takeover” can defuse the situation in Negros Oriental, though not to the point of martial law.
“If that would hasten, gaano katagal bago truly one can feel wala na talaga ang intimidation. Para sa akin, in my personal point of view, okay ako kung ganoon na lang muna (If that would hasten ending the feeling of impunity, then personally I am okay with it),” she told the senator.
Former Negros Oriental governor Pryde Henry Teves, who attended the Senate hearing, belied accusations against him and his brother, Congressman Arnolfo Teves, Jr., who is a suspected mastermind behind Gov. Degamo’s killing.
Senator Dela Rosa, a former Philippine National Police chief and chairman of the investigating committee, expressed disappointment over the alleged involvement of a number of police personnel in what some described as a “breakdown” of the criminal justice system in Negros Oriental.
“Baka akala ninyo masaya ako sa aking kinarororoonan ngayon, na ako ang nag-iimbestiga sa inyo,” he said while holding back tears and addressing not only the police officers present at the hearing but the PNP as a whole.
He had to take a sip of water before continuing.