The assassination of Ako Bicol Party-list Rep. Rodel Batocabe over the weekend has prompted the Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP) to call on the Supreme Court to take “stronger action” to ensure the safety of lawyers.
In a news statement issued on Monday, IBP President Abdiel Dan Elijah S. Fajardo said the group has launched an open online petition, beginning with 78 lawyers, urging the SC, through the Chief Justice, to take immediate action to defend lawyers, as they perform their functions to protect their clients’ rights and uphold the rule of law.
“We respectfully urge the Supreme Court to take appropriate steps to ensure a thorough, prompt, impartial and independent investigation into all the killings of lawyers from June 30, 2016,” he said.
Fajardo also sought for a dialogue between the Supreme Court, IBP, security forces, particularly the Philippine National Police (PNP), the Armed Forces of the Philippines, other government agencies, civil society organizations and other lawyer organizations, “where all parties could engage in open and constructive discussion on ensuring the safety and security of lawyers.”
On Saturday, December 22, Batocabe, a member of the IBP Albay Chapter and a sitting member of the House of Representatives, was gunned down by still unidentified assassins in Daraga, Albay, along with his police escort SPO1 Orlando Diaz.
“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,” Fajardo said.
A day earlier, Fajardo said, Erfe del Castillo, a member of IBP Negros Occidental, was ambushed but survived a hail of bullets in Talisay, Negros Occidental.
Only last month, he added, Atty. 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 (NUPL)-Negros. He was actively assisting the families of the victims of the Sagay nine massacre. Prior to his death, Ramos reportedly received death threats intended to make him stop assisting the families of the Sagay nine victims.
Meanwhile, members of the lower chamber pledged a P30-million reward to anybody who can provide information that can lead to the arrest of the person or persons behind the murder of Batocabe.
The Ako Bicol party-list has also called on the PNP and the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) for the immediate disarming of the armed goons of rival politicians in Daraga, Albay.
The group also called for the immediate removal of Police Supt. Charlotte Dodson Peñalosa, chief regional Police and Security Protection Unit 5, for her incompetence and negligence resulting in the loss of life and hope for many Daragueños.
Batocabe was on his last term in Congress as the party-list representative of Ako Bicol and was vying for the mayoralty post of Daraga, Albay.
His remains are now at Arcilla Hall, Bicol University, Daraga, Albay, with his interment scheduled on December 31, in a venue yet to be announced. A memorial service in his honor is being planned on January 14, 2019, at the House of Representatives.
‘Culture of violence’
For his part, Sen. Richard J. Gordon, airing concerns over the recent wave of violent incidents, pressed the PNP on Monday to “act swiftly in resolving these killings.”
In a news statement, Gordon warned these could be “an indication that a culture of violence and impunity has been adopted in the country.”
The senator stressed “there is a culture of violence and impunity that must be stopped immediately by ensuring that the police and the people are reminded that we are a country that follows the rule of law! Such appears to have been forgotten as shown by violent events that occurred in the past ten days.”
He pointed out that “these incidents, [occurring] over a span of slightly more than a week in different parts of the country, show that there are elements in our society that believe that a culture of violence is the only way to change, that a culture of impunity and not the rule of law prevails!”
Gordon cited the series of shootings and killings reported across the country starting December 14, such as the ambush of Councilor Ricardo Tan and his wife in Negros Occidental on December 14; Atty. Erfe del Castillo and Elfren Palmares were fired at by unidentified gunmen while driving along the Bacolod-Silay Airport Access Road also in Negros Occidental on December 22; Ariel Vicencio, son of former Malabon Mayor Amado “Boy” Vicencio, was killed and two of his companions were wounded by a gunman who escaped onboard a motorcycle at 3 a.m. in Malabon City also on the same day; and Ako Bicol Rep. Rodel Batocabe and his police escort who were shot dead in Daraga, Albay, at 3 p.m., also on December 22; among others.
To effectively address the problem, the senator stressed the need for citizens’ participation in resolving these crimes and stopping the culture of violence, calling on witnesses to these crimes to come forward and provide information to aid law enforcers in bringing the perpetrators to justice.
“With the level of technology we have today, with the number of CCTV and mobile phone cameras around, dedicated and systematic police work can result in the identification and arrest of the perpetrators of these acts of violence. However, it is not only police work that is important—what is also essential is the participation of the people by providing statements on what they may have witnessed including providing sworn testimonies to ensure that the perpetrators are appropriately punished,” said Gordon, who chairs the Senate Committee on Justice and Human Rights.
He asserted that if the rule of law is undertaken judiciously in a fair and fast manner, “then citizens would not feel the need to take matters into their own hands through extra legal means and the culture of violence and impunity would subside if not stop.”
The senator suggested that “at this time of turbulence, we must all return to our fundamental law, the Philippine Constitution for guidance. The Constitution mandates that our government ensure rule of law and due process every step of the way—from criminal investigation to identification of the accused, the filing of criminal charges before our courts, arrest, trial, promulgation of judgment and then imposition of penalties, if warranted by evidence. It also specifies the manner by which we elect our leaders—through free- orderly, honest, peaceful and credible elections,” Gordon added.