Bicol police have identified persons of interest in the assassination of Ako Bicol Party-list Rep. Rodel Batocabe and his police escort PO1 Orlando Diaz, who were gunned down in Daraga, Albay, on Saturday after they left a gift-giving event.
“The update from the Daraga police is that there are persons of interest in the case who are the focus of investigators,” said Chief Insp. Ma. Luisa Calubaquib, spokesperson of the Special Investigation Task Group Batocabe.
She said some concerned citizens and a possible witness have shared information relating to the attack and CCTV footage that showed the potential suspects.
She added that the P30-million reward for information leading to the arrest of the mastermind in the murders would help.
“The reward will be a big help by encouraging people who know anything to come forward,” she said in Filipino.
Philippine National Police chief Oscar Albayalde said they will explore all angles, including the possibility of extortion by the communist New People’s Army.
Albayalde cited intelligence information that the NPAs in the area were attempting to extort Batocabe but said this was still be verified.
Police are also considering the involvement of a private armed group in the area, he said.
Meanwhile, the regional police director said the provincial police chief of Albay has been relieved from his post after the Batocabe assassination over the weekend.
Batocabe was distributing Christmas gifts in his hometown of Daraga, Albay when he and his police escort were shot dead by at least six assailants.
Earlier, the police chief of Daraga town was also removed from his post.
Batocabe, elected to the House in 2010, was eyeing the mayoral seat of Daraga in the 2019 midterm elections. He had voiced concern that rivals in the local race were using armed groups to influence the vote.
Batocabe’s son said Monday the family is still interested in contesting the mayoral post.
“That is not finalized as of the moment but there will be a Batocabe who will run for mayor for Daraga,” his son Justin told reporters.
In the House, opposition lawmakers led by Albay Rep. Edcel Lagman have committed to give P50,000 each for the immediate capture of the assassins of Batocabe and his police escort.
Surigao del Norte Rep. Robert Barbers remembered his late colleague Batocabe as a “hardworking” lawmaker and “very capable” vice chairman of his House committee on dangerous drugs, which Barbers chairs.
“Rodel was my vice chairman at the House committee on dangerous drugs. He was hardworking, relentless and passionate in his conviction,” the panel chairman wrote on his official Facebook page late Sunday evening.
“He was courageous and outspoken, especially on issues that greatly affect ordinary people,” Barbers said. “Unfortunately, his assailant came like a thief in the night, and when everyone was busy preparing for Christmas.”
Bayan Muna Party-list Rep. Carlos Zarate, member of the Makabayan bloc, expressed hope that the perpetrator of this crime would be brought to justice soon.
He said what happened to Batocabe and his police security “highlights the climate of impunity prevalent in our country now.”
The Integrated Bar of the Philippines, meanwhile, urged the Supreme Court to take action on a spate of killings of lawyers.
The IBP appealed to the SC justices to implement measures intended to protect lawyers after some of its members fell prey to criminals, with Batocabe being the latest victim.
immediate action to protect lawyers in the Philippines as they perform their function to protect their clients’ rights and uphold the rule of law,” the IBP said in a statement issued by national president Abdiel Dan Elijah Fajardo.
The IBP made the appeal as it condemned the Batocabe’s murder.
“We join other sectors in condemning his daylight assassination, even as we remain shocked by the audacity of the concerted action that can only find success in an environment that fosters impunity,” the statement read.
The IBP also cited the killing of another lawyer, Erfe del Castillo, a member of IBP Negros Occidental who was ambushed but survived a rain of bullets in Talisay, Negros Occidental last Friday.
Just last month, lawyer Benjamin Ramos was shot dead by two unidentified men at the public plaza of Kabankalan City, Negros Occidental. Ramos was the secretary general of the National Union of People’s Lawyers-Negros and was actively assisting the families of the victims of the Sagay 9 Massacre.
Also on Monday, the Palace denounced opposition Senator Francis Pangilinan for attributing Batocabe’s death to President Rodrigo Duterte’s war on drugs, calling his remarks “reckless and intellectually challenged.”
“Obviously, it is an attempt at gaining political mileage to boost the chances of its senatorial candidates. Using the death of Ako Bicol Rep. Rodel Batocabe for such purpose however is a blatant disrespect to his memory,” he added.
Panelo said the Palace condemned the lawmaker’s death the moment they caught wind of the killing.
“To associate his death to the current government’s campaign against illegal drugs is grossly irresponsible and utterly unfair,” Panelo said.
He added that the state does not sanction the “daily killings” that Pangilinan cited.
“We reiterate that the President does not, and will never, condone extrajudicial and vigilante killings. Accountability remains a core of good governance and [the President] has made clear his stance relative thereto,” Panelo said.