MANILA, Philippines – The Philippine National Police (PNP) is investigating 6 persons of interest in the killing of AKO Bicol Representative Rodel Batocabe and his security guard, Orlando Diaz.
The police are also considering New People's Army (NPA) rebels as being possibly behind the attack even as they are not yet ruling out a political motive.
These were among the updates given by PNP chief Director-General Oscar Albayalde during a press conference on Wednesday, December 26, at Camp Ola in Legazpi City.
The 6 persons of interest were not identified in the press conference.
"We are not discounting the possibilities here. We are not just focused on the political motive but also this," he said in Filipino, referring to the scenario of NPA involvement.
While the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP), the mother unit of the armed NPA, denied they had anything to do with the killing, Albayalde said it's possible NPA members were operating without the permission or knowledge of the communist leadership.
"Puwedeng hindi sanctioned nila 'yun but 'yung tao are the ones involved, the same people. Puwede din tao din nila pero iba ang trabaho (It can be that they were not sanctioned but it's the same people involved. It could have been their people but doing something else)," speculated Albayalde.
NPA members could be "moonlighting" or taking on assassination orders to make money on the side, he elaborated.
Still, the police are not ruling out the possibility that Batocabe's political rivals masterminded his murder. Batocabe, on his last term as AKO Bicol representative, was running for mayor of Daraga town in the 2019 elections.
But because the PNP lacked sufficient evidence to link any politician to the killing, Albayalde refused to mention any names.
"It might be unfair to menton the name right away without having substantial evidence to name him," said the country's top cop.
He was supposed to run against incumbent Mayor Carlwyn Baldo of Lakas-CMD and Victor Perete of PDP-Laban.
Lawmakers and the local government have already offered a multimillion-peso reward for information that would lead to the mastermind and suspects.
Meanwhile, Albayalde claimed during the press conference that some local government officials have been uncooperative with the PNP's investigation.
"As of this time accordingly our investigators are having a hard time because people don't want to talk. Our countrymen are afraid to speak up. We are wondering why, given there were so many people in the area, not everyone is willing to talk. And the barangay chairman was there at that time. Apparently, he said he doesn't know," said the PNP chief.
No coordination by Batocabe security
Albayalde also revealed that Batocabe's security detail failed to coordinate his presence in the gift-giving program with the PNP.
The lapse might have cost him his life.
"What we know is, Congressman went there without coordinating with the PNP. We are wondering why he didn't coordinate with the PNP that he is going to that area which is dangerous, critical, and has a big crowd," said Albayalde.
In previous occasions, his security guard who died with him, Diaz, had coordinated with the PNP.
Albayalde gave assurances that the police were prioritizing the Batocabe case. He said this is proven by his assigning no less than the director of the police's Criminal Investigation and Detection Group, Amador Corpus, to supervise the probe.
The police are determined to prevent election-related killings as the country gears up for the 2019 midterm polls.
"As much as possible, we want zero incident of casualty related to elections," he said. – with reports from Rhaydz Barcia/Rappler.com
Pia Ranada covers the Office of the President and Bangsamoro regional issues for Rappler. While helping out with desk duties, she also watches the environment sector and the local government of Quezon City. For tips or story suggestions, you can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.