Double-cross prompts surrender
MANILA, Philippines — As soon as he announced he was challenging the sitting mayor, Rodel Batocabe was as good as dead.
A suspect in the murder of the Ako Bicol party-list congressman told police the plot was hatched in August last year, after Batocabe announced that he would run for mayor of Daraga town against the incumbent, Carlwyn Baldo.
The mayor has denied ordering the assassination of Batocabe before Christmas.
But a double-cross in the promised payment prompted the gunman to surrender to Army officers in Sorsogon last Thursday afternoon together with Jaywin Babor, the driver of the motorcycle used in the hit, which also killed Batocabe’s bodyguard Senior Police Officer 1 Orlando Diaz.
Confessed gunman Henry Yuson, who is being held without bail initially for an unrelated previous case of rape, apologized to the Batocabe family and said he was ordered by Baldo to kill the congressman so the mayor could keep his post.
Yuson claimed Baldo’s security aide Christopher Naval and a certain Danilo Muella, alias Manoy Dan, plotted the assassination together with the mayor.
The gunman said he was promised a lump sum payment, which authorities pegged at P5 million, if he killed Batocabe, but the money was cornered by Naval and Muella.
Yuson, who was recruited by Naval as security officer for the mayor, said he had been at his job for only five months and was also promised continued employment if the hit succeeded.
Director General Oscar Albayalde, Philippine National Police (PNP) chief, said that with the surrender of Yuson and Babor, the PNP now has in its custody four of the six suspects tagged in the twin murders.
Yuson was turned over to the custody of the Bicol regional police.
Babor is in the custody of the PNP Intelligence Group at Camp Crame in Quezon City.
The other alleged gunman, Rolando Arimado, is still at large.
Babor, a former Army soldier, reportedly fled to Metro Manila after the killing.
Also in police custody are Naval and Emmanuel Rosello, the driver of another getaway motorcycle.
Naval has signed an extrajudicial confession implicating Baldo in the killing.
Albayalde said the suspects who surrendered could have been “pressured” to carry out the hit as they were former military men.
“Their statements are all consistent... without them conniving with each other, no finger pointing or blaming each other,” Albayalde said.
He said the suspects all tagged Baldo as their principal.
“We are not doing this. They just gave their statements voluntarily and it all points to the mayor, all of them pointing to the mayor,” Albayalde told a press briefing.
He said authorities are trying to retrieve the murder weapons, .45 caliber and .40 caliber handguns, which were dismantled and tossed into a river.
Batocabe and Diaz were shot dead as they were about to board their vehicle after a gift-giving activity for senior citizens in Barangay Burgos in Daraga on Dec. 22.
Seven people were also wounded in the gunfire.
Albayalde said Yuson confessed to being the one who fatally shot Batocabe at close range.
Albayalde told a press conference in Pili, Camarines Sur that Yuson dismantled the murder weapon and threw the parts in the river.
“With the arrest of the main gunman (Yuson), this will further tighten the loose around the neck of the rest of the suspects,” he added.
A break in the case came when Baldo’s former associate Emmanuel Judavar surfaced and divulged the plot to kill Batocabe, one of the mayor’s opponents in the coming local elections.
Judavar told probers that he was part of the plan, but he backed out sometime in October because of a personal dispute with Baldo.
This was corroborated by Naval, who revealed that the plan to assassinate Batocabe was hatched sometime in August 2018 when the lawmaker announced his bid for the mayoral post of Daraga.
Interior Secretary Eduardo Año said they now have “very strong evidence” against Baldo, and his denial of the accusation “is not a… good defense.”
He said all the suspects blamed Baldo for reneging on his promise.
“All of them are saying that Baldo did not pay them what they agreed upon. Onsehan ba (they were double crossed),” Año said.
Aside from charges of double murder and frustrated murder, Baldo also faces multiple administrative charges.
The National Police Commission has been directed to revoke Baldo’s authority to supervise the Daraga police force.
Who gets P50 M?
As for the P50-million bounty, the Department of the Interior and Local Government is still validating who will get the reward.
Año said he would ask the Department of Justice to accept the witnesses into the Witness Protection Program.
Baldo can still run
Despite facing murder charges, Baldo can still run for reelection in May.
Commission on Elections (Comelec) spokesman James Jimenez said the accusation has “no significant effect on the official status of his candidacy.”
“A candidate cannot be disqualified on the basis of a criminal complaint alone. There must be a final conviction to be disqualified,” Jimenez said.
Baldo has denied involvement in the killing of Batocabe.
“I assert my innocence. Let us not forget that while I’m being used as convenient scapegoat, those who are truly responsible for the crime remain free and blameless,” Baldo said at a press conference.
Batocabe’s colleagues in the House of Representatives commended the PNP for solving the killing of the lawmaker.
“The House of Representatives deeply appreciates the dedication and hard work our police force has put in to go after the perpetrators of the despicable act in such a short time. The House also appreciates the bravery and loyalty of those in their ranks who are called upon to perform vital escort and security functions, often at the risk of their lives,” Speaker Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo said.
She said the authorities should now ensure that the suspects are prosecuted “to the fullest extent of the law.”
“There should be no let-up and no stone left unturned until justice is served. Again, my congratulations to the PNP for a job well done,” Arroyo said.
For his part, Deputy Speaker and Batangas Rep. Raneo Abu said, “We thank the PNP for doing their job in the speedy resolution of our colleague’s murder case. We also promise the family and loved ones of Congressman Batocabe that we will remain vigilant until justice is fully served.”
– With Cet Dematera, Sheila Crisostomo, Jess Diaz