Nothing less than an act of “political terrorism” is how Senate President Juan Miguel Zubiri has described the recent brazen assassination of Negros Occidental Governor Roel Degamo that also led to the deaths of eight of his constituents and the wounding of 16 others.
This is an accurate description that shows the depths to which our political culture has deteriorated, with physical elimination of political adversaries apparently now getting to be the norm.
In February, three other local officials were also targeted for armed attacks.
Lanao del Sur Gov. Mamintal Adiong Jr. and Mayor Ohto Montawal of Datu Montawal town, Maguindanao del Sur province, both survived separate attacks on Feb. 17 and Feb. 22, respectively, but Aparri, Cagayan Vice Mayor Rommel Alameda died in an ambush on Feb. 19.
In the wake of the Negros Oriental massacre, the Philippine National Police now wants to provide additional security to local officials.
But will assigning more police security escorts to politicians deter armed attacks?
And who should be given additional security? Those with validated death threats? Those local officials in areas with a history of intense political rivalry that has led to violence in the past?
At present, under a 2019 PNP memorandum circular, local chief executives are entitled to a maximum of two security officers from the Police Security and Protection Group.
In “highly exceptional cases,” they may request a maximum of six additional escorts, either from the PNP or from private security agencies.
The rash of killings has been blamed partly on the slow-paced resolution of election protests, with losing candidates likely to resort to violence to settle political disputes.
But it may also be true that the violence we’re seeing now at the local level may well be the result of politicians wanting to remain in power for as long as they can.
They are likely to resort to extreme lengths, including murder and mayhem, just so they can retain their hold on public office.
What the Marcos administration should do is to direct the PNP and the armed forces to conduct an assessment of the threat posed by private armed groups and known gun-for-hire syndicates as well as an inventory of unlicensed firearms at the provincial, city and municipal levels to prevent political violence from escalating further.
The PNP should leave no stone unturned in their investigation of recent cases of armed attacks against local officials and bring the perpetrators and masterminds to justice.
The rule of law must prevail at all times, or else the country will descend into a spiral of violence and anarchy that will set only back government efforts to accelerate economic advance and uplift the lives of poor and powerless Filipinos.