GOVERNMENT prosecutors have indicted the main suspect in the murder of the governor of Negros Oriental in central Philippines and 26 other victims, according to the Department of Justice (DoJ) 

The bodyguard of Arnolfo T. Teves, Jr., a congressman of the province, was charged with nine counts of murder for the death of the governor and eight others; 13 counts of frustrated murder; and four counts of attempted murder, DoJ said in a statement on Wednesday. 

The Office of the Provincial Prosecutor of Negros Oriental will handle the cases in connection with the murder of Governor Roel R. Degamo, it added. 

Law enforcers arrested the suspect, who underwent inquest proceedings at DoJ on Monday, during a National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) operation on March 27 in the village of Madlad in nearby Antique province. 

Prosecutors would amend the charge sheet, which indicted other suspects in the killing, to include the supposed mastermind, the agency said. 

“The case is 99% finished,” Justice Secretary Jesus Crispin C. Remulla said in the statement. “It is only a matter of time before we can put this to bed.” 

Authorities had 12 suspects in custody and the case was close to being solved, Interior and Local Government Secretary Benjamin C. Abalos, Jr. told a news briefing on Monday. 

Justice Secretary Jesus Crispin C. Remulla earlier said Mr. Teves could be one of the masterminds, being a political rival. The congressman, who is overseas and has refused to come home because of supposed threats, had denied involvement in the crime. He has been slapped with a 60-day suspension by the House of Representatives for failing to report back to work after his travel authority expired on March 9. 

Mr. Degamo and eight others, including two village leaders, were killed while 15 were wounded when armed men opened fire at his residential compound, where cash aid was being distributed on March 4.  

More than 30 cases related to the killing have been filed before a Bayawan City regional trial court, Mr. Abalos earlier said. 

The Supreme Court had transferred the cases related to the murder after Mr. Remulla’s request to move them to Manila, citing the risk of a hostile environment in the province for those involved. 

Meanwhile, President Ferdinand R. Marcos, Jr. has formed a task force that will keep order in the province Negros a month after Mr. Degamo was killed in his house. 

The task force, named after late governor, would “prevent the spread and escalation of violence elsewhere in the Philippines and to maintain peace and order on Negros Island, with due regard to the fundamental civil and political rights of the people,” the presidential palace said in a statement. 

It will be headed by Interior and Local Government Secretary Benjamin de Castro Abalos, Jr. and co-headed by Mr. Remulla and Defense Secretary Carlito G. Galvez, Jr., the Presidential Communications Office said. The task force commanders are the chiefs of the national police, Armed Forces of the Philippines and National Bureau of Investigation. 

The task force will also intensify campaigns against private armed groups and loose firearms. Under Administrative Order No. 6, the body will rationalize efforts of various agencies to “ensure a whole-of-government approach in the prevention, investigation, prosecution and punishment of violence on Negros Island.” 

The palace said the Department of Social Welfare and Development would extend relief assistance to the families of the victims, while the Department of Health will provide psychological rehabilitation to affected people. The presidential assistant for the Visayas will coordinate with the task force to enlist the full support of all stakeholders. – John Victor D. Ordonez and Kyle Aristophere T. Atienza