By Charissa Luci-Atienza
The House Committee on Public Accounts expressed on Tuesday readiness to look into the disbursement of the P35-million bounty offered for the immediate capture of the suspects in the murder of former AKO Bicol partylist Rep. Rodel Batocabe in December last year.
Anakalusugan partylist Rep. Mike Defensor, chairman of the panel, vowed to roll up their sleeves to investigate the use of the so-called “intelligence funds” for the arrest of Batocabe’s killers.
It was AKO Bicol partylist Rep. Alfredo Garbin Jr. who initially asked the House leadership to give due attention to Batocabe’s murder case, he said.
“During our meeting last night, Congressman Garbin asked if we could immediately look into the Batocabe issue because when Congressman Batocabe was assassinated, P30 million was allocated, different offices (gave funds), the President gives funds, Congress gives funds,” Defensor told reporters.
“This is not just the appeal of the AKO Bicol, but also of the partylist organisations, which include the Minority group,” he said.
The House leader noted that Minority Leader Bienvenido “Benny” Abante Jr. already filed a resolution calling for a probe on the disbursement of the bounty intended for witnesses for the prosecution, in relation to Batocabe’s murder.
Defensor expressed confidence that Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano “will prioritize” the probe on the budget utilisation of the intelligence funds.
Abante filed House Resolution 384, citing “disturbing information that several witnesses have not received their share in the bounty and are now in fear for lack of financial capacity to secure themselves and their families against bodily harm.”
“Witnesses have already expressed their reluctance to testify for alleged failure to deliver the bounties which were promised to them,” the Minority Leader said.
He said the P35 million was turned over to the Philippine National Police (PNP) for safekeeping and disbursement to qualified witnesses.
Of the P35 million bounty, P20 million came from the Office of the President, P13 million from House of Representatives during the 17th Congress and another P2 million from the province of Albay, he noted.
“This bounty was intended to incentives witnesses to come forward and assist in the prosecution of those behind the murder and to cover the legal fees of lawyers engaged to prosecute the case,” Abante said.
“More importantly, the bounty was intended to ensure the safety of those who would come forward and testify against the assailants and the masterminds,” he added.
Last month, former Daraga mayor Carlwyn Baldo, the alleged mastermind in the killing of Batocabe, posted P8.72 million bail after Judge Maria Theresa San Juan Loquillano of the Legazpi City Regional Trial Court (RTC) Branch 10 granted his petition for bail.
Batocabe, who was running for mayor in the Daraga town, and his security escort, SPO1 Orlando Diaz were shot dead on December 22, 2018 at Brgy. Burgos, Daraga, Albay while attending a gift giving for senior citizens and persons with disabilities (PWDs).