THE Supreme Court has granted the request of the Department of Justice (DOJ) to transfer to the Regional Trial Court (RTC) of Manila the cases filed and will be filed in connection with the killing of Negros Oriental Governor Roel Degamo and eight others.
The request was made by Justice Secretary Jesus Crispin Remulla through a letter addressed to Chief Justice Alexander Gesmundo dated March 9, 2023 and coursed through Court Administrator Raul B. Villanueva.
SC Spokesman Brian Keith Hosaka said Remulla’s letter was discussed during Tuesday’s regular en banc session of the magistrates.
In his letter, Remulla cited several reasons in seeking the transfer of the cases, including possible intimidation and harassment of the respondents, private complainants, and their witnesses considering that three of the victims are government officials.
The DOJ chief also said the case has gained significant media attention in Negros Oriental, thus, creating a hostile environment for the respondents.
Remulla also raised the logistical difficulties of conducting the trial in the province, noting that the respondents are currently detained at the National Bureau of Investigation’s (NBI) Custodial Center in Manila.
He added that the facilities in the province may not be adequate to handle a high-profile case, such as the Degamo murder case, and there could be security issues with the transportation and handing of the respondents.
In his memorandum for the Chief Justice dated March 13, 2023, Court Administrator Villanueva expressed no objection to Remulla’s request.
The Court Administrator said that “a change of venue to Manila would be in the best interest of all parties involved” and it “will provide a neutral venue where the trial can be conducted fairly and impartially, free from any undue influence or bias.”
For “all future cases” that may be filed in relation to the subject charges now pending before the courts in Negros Oriental, Court Administrator Villanueva recommended that the Court may also order their transfer to the Manila RTC once these are filed in the proper courts in Negros Oriental.
An information for three counts of murder and frustrated murder have already been filed before the Regional Trial Court of Tanjay City, Negros Oriental against four suspects and 12 other “John Does.”
The four were identified as Joven Javier, Benjie Rodriguez, Joric Labrador and Osmundo Rivero.
Another set of information for three counts for violation of laws on the illegal possession of firearms, ammunition and explosives against three of the respondents were also filed before the RTC of Bayawan City.
The four suspects were believed to be among a group of at least 10 heavily-armed men who barged into the compound of Degamo’s residence in Barangay Isidro, Pamplona, Negros Oriental last March 4 and indiscriminately fired at the governor and some civilians availing of financial assistance being given to poor families.
The NBI has taken custody of the four accused after they agreed to divulge more information in connection with the gruesome crime.
Remulla earlier said Negros Oriental 3rd District Rep. Arnolfo “Arnie” Teves Jr. and several others are among those being looked into by investigators as possible conspirators in the killing.
Remulla made the statement after two of the four suspects named Teves as the mastermind in the killings.
Teves, who is still out of the country following a stem cell treatment in the United States, has denied the accusation.
However, the Philippine National Police-Criminal Investigation and Detection Group (PNP-CIDG) filed murder charges against Teves last March 7 before the DOJ in connection with three killings that took place between March to June 2019 in the province that were believed to be politically motivated.
Image credits: Mike Gonzalez via Wikimedia Commons CC BY-SA 3.0