• GILBERT P. BAYORAN
About 300 Army soldiers were dispatched yesterday to 21 areas in Negros Oriental, to help the police in the conduct of joint security checkpoints, as well as pursuing the suspects behind the assassination of Gov. Roel Degamo who remain at large, Maj. Cenon Pancito, acting spokesperson of the newly activated Special Joint Task Force Negros (SJTFN), disclosed yesterday.
Pancito said that a ceremonial send-off of troops from the 11th, 62nd, 94th, 7th, 79th and 15th Infantry Battalions was held yesterday in Siaton, Negros Oriental, following the activation of SJTFN for the joint security operations in the 2nd and 3rd district of Negros Oriental.
The SJTFN is composed of the Army’s 302nd and 303rd Infantry Brigade, and six of its Army battalions, as well as PNP Special Action Force and other police units.
On the other hand, Lt. Col. Roderick Salayo, 11th Infantry Battalion commander, yesterday said troops were deployed in the 3rd district of Negros Oriental, including Basay, Bayawan City, Santa Catalina, Siaton, Dauin, Zamboanguita, and Bacong areas.
Aside from those areas, they are also concentrating in other areas, such as ports and seaports, as well as airports, Salayo said.
The Philippine National Police is also deploying additional Special Action Force (SAF) troopers, to augment local police units, which will be placed under the SJTFN.
Salayo allayed fears that their additional tasking will compromise their anti-insurgency operations.
It will be a “twin mission”, for us, he said, adding that they are now giving primary efforts to solve the assassination of Gov. Degamo, in compliance with the instruction of President Ferdinand Marcos Jr.
While they are giving premium to the Gov. Degamo case, Pancito said they have available forces also in the continuing conduct of internal security operations in Negros Island.
As to the deployment of a 50-man Light Reaction Company, an elite counter terrorist unit of the Armed Forces of the Philippines, Pancito said they will only be utilized if there are verified targets that require their expertise.
All the four arrested suspects in the Degamo assassination were former members of the Philippine Army, including an ex-trooper of the AFP Light Reaction Regiment.
Their arrests also yielded several high-powered firearms and anti-tank weapons.
The creation of SJTFN was ordered by President Marcos Jr. to beef up peace and security operations and restore the normalcy and confidence of the Negrenses, using government security agencies, according to a statement issued by the 3ID Public Affairs Office.
The AFP forces under the SJTFN is headed by Brig. Gen. Sison.
Sison said that creating the SJTFN will further intensify and unify all government forces’ efforts to give justice to the victims and catch all perpetrators of the brutal act.
Meanwhile, Galvez said that there will be no state of emergency in Negros Oriental. Instead, a joint task force group was created to suppress the criminal activities and impunity in the province.
Aside from the March 4 bloodbath that killed Degamo and 8 others, Galvez disclosed the new task force would also dig deeper into previous killing incidents in Negros.
“There is always time for reckoning. And this day is that time,” Galvez said.*