Various public officials raised concerns over violence in local politics in the Philippines after Ako Bicol party-list Rep. Rodel Batocabe and his security aide were gunned down in Daraga, Albay on Saturday.
The 52-year-old lawmaker and his accompanying police escort SPO1 Orlando Diaz were about to board their vehicle after attending a gift-giving event on the afternoon of December 22 when masked men approached them and shot them.
Batocabe sustained eight gunshot wounds while Diaz sustained six. They were pronounced dead on arrival after being rushed Ago Medical and Educational Center Hospital. Seven senior citizens were injured.
The lawmaker was about to meet his wife Gertie Duran-Batocabe to celebrate their wedding anniversary at a party organized for patients who need dialysis at the Bicol Regional Training and Teaching Hospital in nearby Albay City.
Police have eyed politics and communist elements in the killing. Batocabe had filed his candidacy in the mayoral race of Daraga, his hometown, for the May 2019 elections. A number of persons of interest have reportedly been identified.
A total of P30 million has been offered to those who can provide information for the capture of those involved in the killing, after Batocabe’s colleagues in AKO Bicol, the House of Representatives and local government of Albay offered bounties.
Other public officials, from both the opposition and administration camps, voiced their concern over the violent incident.
Sen. Kiko Pimentel in a post remembered Batocabe as a “contemporary” at the University of the Philippines College of Law, despite their political differences. He urged the Commission on Elections to combat violence in the local political sphere months before the 2019 elections.
“We urge the Comelec to clamp down on election-related violence early on lest the situation spiral out of control into a blood drenched May 2019 national and local elections,” Pangilinan wrote.
Senatorial candidate and former presidential spokesperson Harry Roque recounted his friendship with Batocabe in a tweet.
Rep Rodel Batocabe was one of my best friends, dorm mate, classmate, law partner and colleague. He will be sorely missed as I vow to go after his killer/s until my very last breath. I promise you that Batocs!
— Harry Roque (@attyharryroque) December 22, 2018
“He will be sorely missed as I vow to go after his killer/s until my very last breath,” the veteran lawyer wrote.
The Commission on Human Rights also voiced concern about the killing in its statement. It urged the government to address the incidence of violence ahead of the elections.
“We urge the government to apply increased vigilance, especially that there allegations linking the killing to the upcoming elections,” spokesperson Jacqueline Ann de Guia wrote.
Ahead of 2019 elections
The administration of President Rodrigo Duterte has been criticized for its failure to curb violence against local officials. At least 12 mayors and 7 vice-mayors have been killed since the start of his administration.
Some of the victims, including Tanauan City, Batangas Mayor Antonio Halili, were linked to the illegal drugs trade prior to their death.
A number of city and municipality councilors as well as former and current barangay officials have also been killed in the past years.
Senate public order committee chair Sen. Panfilo Lacson on Sunday, December 23 announced an immediate probe on the kiling of Batocabe as soon as Senate resumes session in January 2019.
He also proposed a gun ban by canceling all permits to carry firearms outside of residences.
At the rate murder is being committed with impunity, it’s time for the PNP to impose stricter gun control measures. For a start, try canceling all PTCFOR’s. Anybody in civvies carrying FA’s must be assumed to have criminal intent and apprehended on the spot.
— PING LACSON (@iampinglacson) December 22, 2018
The COMELEC’s election gun ban is scheduled to start on January 19, 2018.
At least 33 people were believe killed in the days leading up to the May 2018 barangay and Sangguniang Kabataan elections, including both civilians, candidates and incumbent officials.