By Corina Oliquino i FilAm Star Correspondent

MANILA — Citizen Crime Watch (CCW) last August 4 offered a PHP 1 million reward for information leading to the arrests of ex-lawmakers Satur Ocampo, Teddy Casiño, former Agrarian Reform Sec. Rafael Mariano and Liza Maza who are facing murder charges in Palayan City, Nueva Ecija.

The group’s president, legal counsel and lawyers Diego Magpantay and Ferdie Topacio presented 10 thick bundles of newly-minted PHP 1,000 bills at their group’s news forum in Quezon City.

“Technically, they are now fugitives from justice,” Topacio said, referring to the four ex-lawmakers.

According to a report by The Philippine Star, Malacañang previously urged Maza, who holds a Cabinet rank as chair of the National Anti-Poverty Council, to surrender while Philippine National Police (PNP) Chief Director Gen. Oscar Albayalde also appealed to the four former members of the House of Representatives.

In an interview with DZMM last August 5, Bayan Muna Party-list Rep. Carlos Isagani Zarate said, “This is a very cheap political gimmick, para lang magkaroon sila ng kapangyarihan at ma-appoint din siguro under the present administration,” Zarate said.

Zarate added that the bounty is part of the political persecution against leftist leaders who criticize the Duterte Administration’s “anti-poor” policies.

Zarate noted that the bounty also puts in danger the lives of the leftist leaders, citing how it could have been better used to go after drug lords or those behind the multi-million peso pork barrel scam.

The bounty followed last month’s issuing of a warrant by a Nueva Ecija court against the ex-lawmakers.

“It was the same court that said in 2008 that the case had no probable cause due to “irregularities in the preliminary investigation” and “the failure of witnesses to appear before a fiscal to back their claims,” the leftist leaders’ lawyer Rachel Pastores said.

Lawyer and former Bayan Muna Rep. Neri Colmenares previously claimed that the case was filed to discourage dissent during the time of then-President and now House Speaker Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.

Moreover, Zarate questioned the timing of the 2006 case’s revival, noting that it comes amid Arroyo’s recent election as House Speaker.

Zarate added that the leftist leaders’ camp filed a motion for reconsideration which seeks to dismiss the case and the warrant of arrest against them.

Meanwhile, Topacio said that the contributors of the bounty are the same people who put up a PHP 1 million reward for information leading to the arrest of Sen. Leila de Lima’s former driver Ronnie Dayan, who turned witness against her.

The Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan) on the other hand, said the reward money is nothing but “a lame publicity stunt that unfortunately endangers the lives of the four accused.”

“What is the point of this PR (public relations) gimmick of Topacio when the Palayan regional trial court is already set to decide on the motion for reconsideration of the accused former lawmakers?” asked Bayan Secretary-gen. Renato Reyes.

Reyes noted that they look forward to a just and favorable resolution of this case that has dragged on for 12 years.

Private initiative
In a report by ABS-CBN News on Sunday, the Office of the Presidential Spokesperson said the Palace leaves all aspects of the double murder case filed against the four accused ex-lawmakers to the courts.

The Palace also reiterated that, “on the PHP 1 million reward offered, that is a private initiative. As far as we are concerned, all aspects of this case are in the hands of the court and we look forward to an impartial and expeditious trial.”

The Palace also stressed that Maza remains the secretary of the National Anti-Poverty Commission, “unless there is a directive from the President stating otherwise.”