DUMAGUETE, Philippines – The slain Negros Oriental governor Roel Degamo was an outlier among the scions of land-owning political clans and his folksy looks and ways earned him thousands of loyal followers.

One of those supporters, Barangay Fatima captain Florenda Quinikito of Sta. Catalina town, died trying to protect the governor on Saturday morning, March 4 when a group of ex-soldiers walked into a “people’s day” gathering in Pamplona town and opened fire at Degamo and his visitors. The governor was pronounced dead at 11:41 am, around two hours after the attack.

Degamo’s son, Carlo, a 2nd District provincial board member, said Quinikito was found on top of Degamo.

A photo shared by the provincial information office showed Degamo seated at the right-most side of a long table before the attack, facing various folk consulting on their problems.

A photo of the immediate aftermath showed Degamo sprawled a few meters from the table, face down on the cement floor, with Quinikito lying face up, her head on Degamo’s lower back.

Beneath them was a pool of blood. Around them were chairs upended by people escaping the assailants who wore camouflage uniforms and carried high-powered firearms. 

Quinikito used her body to cover the governor, Carlo recalled survivors as saying.

Her husband, Florendo, who suffered light wounds in the attack, said the same thing. He tried to rush to his wife but was was forced to stay still to avoid calling the killers’ attention.

Carnage

Others who died in the attack were drivers, barangay officials, and an indigent person seeking financial assistance.

Jessie Bot-ay, 48, was a farmer from Mansagumayon, Sta Catalina, who attended the gathering with his wife, Alicia. 

When Jessie saw armed men firing, he immediately hugged Alicia to protect her from possible stray bullets. 

“Gang, naigo ko (I’ve been hit) were Jessie’s last words as he shielded his wife.

Alicia recalled asking him through tears where he was hit. Jessie replied that he didn’t know and soon lost consciousness.

Jose Marie Ramirez, 41, was a barangay councilor in Pamplona.

Jerome Maquiling, 48; Jomar Canseco, 33; and Crispin Vallega, 40, were all drivers. 

“Nag trabaho ra silage tarong,” said a post by one of Maquiling’s relatives who asked not to be named. (They were working at honest jobs.)

Two others killed – Joseph Retada and Michael Fabugais – were also civilians. Seventeen persons were wounded.

The announcement of their deaths came three hours after cops arrested three suspects in a Bayawan City plantation, seizing several high-powered firearms and vehicles.

BEFORE THE CARNAGE. This was the scene at the compound of slain Negros Oriental governor Roel Degamo (in orange shirt) before armed men entered and opened fire at the gathering, killing nine persons. This was the scene inside Degamo’s (in orange shirt) house minutes before he was shot dead. [L-R] Dr. Liland Estacion, Provincial Integrated Health Officer; Maelene Jimenez, Provincial Engineering OIC; and Marlo Quilnet.
Aid, vow for justice

President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. visited the wake of Degamo at his family’s home in Barangay Junob, Dumaguete City early Wednesday evening of March 8.

“I just came here para makiramay sa family ni Gov Roel. At nagtatanong lang kami ano pa yung kailangan gawin para matulungan ang mga biktima,” the president told reporters after his visit.

(I just came here to condole with Governor Roel’s family. And we just asked what else could we do to help the victims.)

“Pati yung mga nasa ospital ngayon, and then yung mga ibang kamaganak, asawa ng mga namatay. Kaya kausap din natin at sinabi ko sa kanila na makakaasa sila na magkakaroon ng hustisyo sa inyong probinsya na naging masyadong magulo na,” he added.

(We will also help those in the hospital, and the relatives, the spouses of those who died. That’s why we talked with them. And I told them that they can be reassured that there will be justice in your province that is so chaotic.)

PLEDGE OF AID. President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. hugs Pamplona Mayor Janice Degamo, the widow of slain Negros Oriental governor Roel Degamo, during a visit to his wake on March 8, 2023.

The three suspects arrested in Bayawan are all ex-soldiers. A fourth man, a taxi driver was nabbed in a rented house. Pursuing cops killed one still unidentified suspect.

All four suspects were flown to Manila and turned over to the Department of Justice where officials are evaluating if they can be enrolled in the Witness Protection Program.

Three sets of information for three counts of murder and frustrated murder were filed on March 7 at the Regional Trial Court in Tanjay, Negros Oriental against ex-soldiers Joric Labrador, Joven Javie, and Benjie Rodriguez, taxi driver Osmundo Rojas Rivero, and 12 other John Does.

Separate sets of information for three counts of illegal possession of firearms, ammunition, and explosives were also filed against the three ex-soldiers, who were arrested in Bayawan.

Keeping faith

“Kap Linda (Quinikito) once told us that the opposition bribed her to stop supporting my father,” said Carlo. “But she supported my father instead.”

“Ni ana pa gani siya na pakamatyan gyud niya iyang supporta ni gov. Hopeful siya permi na mu lambo ilang barangay kauban si gov. Daghan sya plano na projects,” Degamo’s son said.

(She even said she would die supporting the governor. She was hopeful that their barangay would progress if Gov. Degamo became involved in their projects.)

Quinikito’s Canada-based grand-daughter Shannen Faye Lucero said the barangay leader spent decades serving her village in Santa Catalina, a hilly municipality 53 kilometers from Pamplona.

“I grew up with a grandma who is a public servant. All the death threats she faced in her entire life is a very normal convo in our family,” Shannen wrote in a Facebook post.

She echoed Carlo’s claim that “the opposition” had offered the barangay captain money and a free trip to Hong Kong to withdraw her support for Degamo.

“Not just once, but they tried several times,” she said.

“Our family forced her to quit but her line was always ‘dili lang usa inday, naa pas governor unya dghan pa kong projects diris barangay’.”

(Not yet, my dear. The governor is still around and I have so many projects for our barangay.)- Inday Espina-Varona/Rappler.com


Who is Roel Degamo, the slain Negros Oriental governor?