I must apologize for this is a delayed tribute, though still very worthy to be written, for Rep. Rodel Batocabe of Ako Bicol partylist. The tragedy struck a few weeks ago, yet only now is reality seeping in, since we, in the House of Representatives, are now preparing rites for our fallen congressman upon the reopening of session next week.
Batocabe was really one of the kindest people I was able to deal with during my stay in the House. He knew the names of our staff and he cracked jokes with everyone. You can see his smile from miles away and he always arrived prepared for his committee hearings. The country lost a statesman in Batocabe who passed at still a very young age. We shall honor him on Monday, 14 January, in the House of Representatives, in rites fitting to his zealous personality, kind heart and true patriotism.
As days go by, more details surface from the tragedy, thanks to the relentless efforts of the Philippine National Police and the local authorities in the Bicol region, as well as the huge reward money dangled by the President and the House members. The purported mastermind has been pinpointed – why are we not surprised that it is Mayor Carlwyn Baldo, the incumbent mayor, who Batocabe was gearing to face in the 2019 elections? The snakes were washed out much faster than we expected. Apparently, the P5 million promised for the murder was not paid in full as promised by Baldo. Lesson learned for the good mayor: always pay your debts on time.
I hear that the mayor is preparing a battery of lawyers, to be led by a spokesman, for his defense. But this effort is too miniscule as compared to the mad public perception that has brewed against him, enough for a swift conviction once criminal cases are filed. Now, the mayor has been dropped by his political party, Lakas-CMD, the same political party of House Speaker Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, as the party’s bet in the 2019 midterm elections.
Public perception aside, the evidence still points to Baldo. We have seen reports of the consistent testimonies of the suspects in apprehension and that the gunman’s firearm matches the evidence gathered in the crime scene. Moreover, the testimony of a certain Emmanuel Bonita Judavar, the person who was supposed to be part of the hit squad but backed out, even identified the former deceased mayor as another target. Reports have likewise been received that after Batocabe, the next target would have been Albay Rep. Joey Sarte Salceda.
The sad thing is that political killings, so it seems, will never be eradicated in this country. I do not have the specific numbers, but I surmise that thousands of deaths have been caused by petty quarrels that could have been fixed if the election process was more transparent, allowing the electorate to vote for those who are worthiest for the positions and if more effort was exerted in stopping patronage politics.
Another possible way to stop this is to crack down on the hitmen who are oftentimes former military, policemen and New People’s Army members — people who are trained in using firearms and urban warfare. Perhaps it is time for the Departments of National Defense and Interior and Local Government to acknowledge that they have played a hand in training these killers for hire and do a more thorough job in profiling and tracking those who are no longer in the service. Inadvertently, our officials may have been training hit men who may have lacked counseling or pension that they are forced to find extra income after service through illegal means. Of course, the best way to deter killings is to impose the harshest penalties on the politicians that employ these killers. These murderers deserve no less than the death penalty.
I recall during my trip to the US last November, we met with members of the Democratic and Republican parties in Lincoln, Nebraska as part of the International Visitors Leadership Program of the US State Department. I told them that a similar setup would not be possible in the Philippines, due to the risk of having someone beaten up if rival parties were placed in the same room. If you think about it, politics is much worse now in the US, yet, for some reason, they get to put their personal differences aside and get to settle things like real men once it is really needed, without killing anyone for political reasons. If Baldo was really a man of principle, then he should have mustered the guts to face Batocabe in a few months’ time.
Unfortunately, he chose the wrong path — the same path chosen by all other politicians who resorted to eliminating their opponents through means of violence. While we all hope that this country and its leaders grow politically mature, this will definitely not happen overnight. We can start by electing the right people this year.