MANILA, Philippines (AP) — Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. said Monday that he ordered police to crack down on illegal firearms and private armies and described as “terrifying” the weekend shootings that killed a provincial governor and eight others in a crowd.
The attack on Negros Oriental Gov. Roel Degamo at his home on Saturday by at least six men armed with assault rifles and wearing military camouflage and bullet-resistant vests was the deadliest on politicians in recent weeks.
It was also the most alarming gun attack under Marcos, who said he was shocked when he saw footage of the gunmen walking into Degamo's residential compound then opening fire on just anybody in front of them, even those “who were not involved in their conflict.”
“This one is particularly terrifying and it's really ... I don't know. This does not belong in the society,” Marcos said in a news conference when asked about the worst killings since he took office in June last year. Degamo's killing “is entirely unacceptable and it will not stand. This cannot go unpunished.”
Government forces were still pursuing other suspects in the region, which has been cordoned off by law enforcers, Marcos said, adding without elaborating that the attack was “purely political."
Police said four suspects, including two former army soldiers, have been arrested and charged, and one other was killed in a brief gunbattle with police. The army and police should keep a high-profile presence in the province to prevent further violence, Marcos said.
He said he had ordered the Interior Department and the national police to assess political hot spots in the country then dismantle private armies and confiscate illegal firearms, which in the past had fostered such crimes of impunity.
Degamo, who backed Marcos' presidential candidacy last year, was meeting a group of poor villagers seeking medical and other help when the gunmen walked calmly into his residential compound in Pamplona town and opened fire. They fled in three SUVs, which were later abandoned in a nearby town. Police said about 10 men were seen fleeing.
At least 17 others, including a doctor and two army soldiers, were wounded in the attack, police said.
Degamo, a longtime politician, initially lost the race for Negros Oriental’s governorship in last year’s elections but was later installed governor after filing a court petition. He said a few years ago without elaborating that he had received death threats in the province, which has a history of bloody political conflicts and violence linked to a communist insurgency.
Degamo’s killing underscores that even local and influential politicians are not immune from high-profile gun violence that has persisted despite the government’s pledge to combat it.
Aside from Degamo, at least four other politicians have come under attack in recent weeks.
Gov. Mamintal Alonto Adiong Jr. of southern Lanao del Sur province was wounded and four of his bodyguards killed in an attack on their convoy last month. Police said they killed one of the suspects in a clash and have identified others who would be charged soon.
In another attack, men reportedly wearing police uniforms fired at the van of northern Aparri town Vice Mayor Rommel Alameda, killing him and five companions in northern Nueva Vizcaya province. The suspects remain at large.
Crimes and decades-long Muslim and communist rebellions, which have been engendered by a surfeit of unlicensed firearms and spotty law enforcement, are some of the major problems inherited by Marcos, a former provincial governor.
In 2009, nearly 200 armed followers led by members of a political clan blocked a convoy of a rival ahead of local elections then led the 58 victims, including 32 media workers, to a nearby hilltop in Ampatuan town in southern Maguindanao province where all were gunned down. A court convicted detained key members of the Ampatuan family over the killings a decade later but many suspects remain at large.