By Daniel Llanto i FilAm Star Correspondent

Congressmen and local officials in the Bicol region raised a PHP30 million bounty for information leading to the arrest of the killers of party-list Rep. Rodel Batocabe and his security escort, SPO1 Orlando Diaz, who could be the first politically-assassinated victims as the 2019 mid-term elections gets closer.

Police investigation set in motion after the December 22 attack in Daraga, Albay focused on the political motive because Batocabe, who is in his third and final term as congressman, is running for mayor of his hometown.

Fellow Ako Bicol Rep. Alfredo Garbin Jr. said an initial PHP 5 million was raised by 153 congressmen for the reward money, which eventually multiplied six-fold. The bounty was created by the Ako Bicol party-list group, congressmen and Albay local officials.

Negros Occidental Rep. Albee Benitez, who spearheaded the move, said the Visayan bloc of legislators in the House of Representatives also pitched in. “As of now, at least 153 congressmen have contributed,” Benitez said.

Of the total 292 House of Representatives members, 60 of them are party-list congressmen like Batocabe.

The slain lawmaker was president of the Party-list Coalition Foundation Inc. in the House. The rest are legislators from legislative districts all over the country from Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao.

House Majority Leader Rolando Andaya Jr. said they are expecting that the reward would further increase as more of their colleagues in the House are signifying to chip in from PHP 50,000 to PHP 100,000 each to expedite arrest of the suspects and resolve the senseless killing of their fellow lawmaker.

“This bounty is expected to go up as more of our colleagues are already expressing interest to resolve the case the soonest time possible,” Andaya said.

Senators urged the authorities to identify the gunmen and bring justice to the family of the slain legislator.

Senate President Vicente Sotto III said the killing of Batocabe shocked him as they were together a few months ago in an official trip to London for members of Congress.

Photo: Senate President Vicente Sotto III (Senate of the Philippines Facebook Page)

“The best thing to do is for the DILG (Department of the Interior and Local Government) and the PNP (Philippine National Police) to act quickly,” Sotto told dzBB.

He also called for a re-shuffle of local police in Daraga town where the lawmaker was assassinated.

Sen. Richard Gordon commiserated with the victim’s family and said his assassination was a loss to the country.

“(Killing) is also an indication of moral decay as it showed that there are elements in our society that believe that a culture of violence is the only way to change,” Gordon said.

“His assassination shows that there are people who think that violence and bloodshed are substitutes for dialogue and clean, honest and peaceful elections,” he said.

Sen. Francis Pangilinan said while he and Batocabe have not been on the same side of the political fence, “his violent death in what appears to have been perpetrated by hired assassins should be roundly condemned.”

“The daily killings were touted by the Duterte administration as the solution to our country’s ills, that the more killed in the drug war, the better,” Pangilinan said.

Sen. Panfilo Lacson, chairman of the Senate committee on public order and dangerous drugs, said the PNP should lose no time in imposing stricter gun control measures, including the suspension of Permits to Carry Firearms Outside Residences (PTCFORs).

“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 suspending all PTCFORs. Anybody in civvies (civilian clothes) carrying firearms must be assumed to have criminal intent and apprehended on the spot,” he said.

Lacson plans to hold a public hearing on recent killings with impunity in January. He cited the killings of at least 14 lawyers, journalists, politicians and other prominent personalities in the past months.