By Charissa Luci-Atienza
AKO Bicol partylist Rep. Alfredo Garbin Jr. said on Sunday the Supreme Court’s decision to transfer the murder case of former Rep. Rodel Batocabe to Manila from Legazpi City was necessary to avoid miscarriage of justice.
He thanked the High Court Second Division for granting his request and that of Batocabe’s family following the alleged bias of Judge Maria Theresa San Juan-Loquillano of Legazpi City, Albay Regional Trial Court Branch 10, who allowed alleged mastermind, former mayor Carlwyn Baldo, to post bail in August.
“It’s a welcome relief from the SC to the victims family of the double murder case–the Batocabe and Diaz Family. It’s necessary to avoid miscarriage of justice,” Garbin said in an interview.
“The Batocabe family thinks they cannot get impartial Justice from Judge Loquillana who they think has shown partiality over the case,” Garbin stressed.
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).
In a two-page notice, the SC considered the “apprehension or fear” that “could easily prevent them and their witnesses to freely testify if the trials were to continue in Albay and this may eventually result in a miscarriage of justice.”
With this, the High Court directed the Executive Judge of Manila to raffle off the case among the judges of the Manila RTC.
Meanwhile, Garbin said the House Committee on Public Accounts hearing on the disbursement of the P35-million bounty offered for capture of suspects in the murder of Batocabe will have to wait until next year due to unavailability of resource persons, including former Philippine National Police (PNP) Chief Oscar Albayalde.
The House panel, chaired by Anakalusugan partylist Rep. Mike Defensor, was supposed to hold its second hearing on the Batocabe issue on Wednesday, December 11.
“The hearing on Wednesday will not push through. Albayalde and other witnesses are not available,” Garbin disclosed.
The Defensor panel held a hearing on November 20 to determine if the P35-million bounty is properly disbursed and accounted for.
Of the P35 million bounty, P20 million came from the Office of the Presdient, P13 million from House of Representatives during the 17th Congress and another P2 million from the province of Albay.
During the Nov. 20 hearing, lawmakers, led by Deputy Speaker and Surigao del Sur Rep. Johnny Pimentel, questioned the PNP’s disbursement of the P35 million bounty after Brigadier General Joel Napoleon Coronel, acting director of the Criminal Investigation and Detection Group (CIDG), failed to answer where the P20-billion bounty went.
Coronel said the PNP National Headquarters is “aware of the distribution of money to different personalities”, citing that the records of distribution and liquidation were submitted directly to the Office of the President.
During the hearing, Coronel confirmed that P6 million was given to prosecution witness, Emmanuel Judavar who attended the hearing.
Without mentioning the names of the witnesses, the PNP official said there are seven other witnesses who were provided with reward.
He said two witness received P2 million each, another two witnesses got P1 million each; another two witnesses were recipients of P250,000 each and the seventh witness received P 500,000, for a total of P7 million.
During the hearing, Atty. Justin Batocabe, son of the late Rep. Batocabe, expressed concern that three accused witnesses “flip-flopped towards the accused”. He said one of them was Christopher Naval, who was allegedly “given a certain amount” recanted and sided with former Daraga Mayor Carlwyn Baldo.
In September this year, Baldo posted P8.72 million bail after Loquillano granted his petition for bail.
On November 20, the Defensor panel went on an executive session to hear the testimonies of the prosecution witnesses—Judavar and Danilo Muella. It was Quezon City Rep. Kit Belmonte who moved for an executive session.
Defensor said the committee hearing was aimed at ensuring “that the Batocabe family will be given justice , that the case will be solved.”
The panel hearing was prodded by Minority Leader Bienvenido “Benny” Abante Jr.’s filing of House Resolution 384, calling for a probe on the disbursement of the bounty intended for witnesses for the prosecution, in relation to Batocabe’s murder.