An outgoing member of the House of Representatives who was an ally of President Rodrigo Duterte was shot and killed Saturday in what appears to be politically related violence ahead of next year’s election, police said.
Rep. Rodel Batocabe, 52, and a police security escort were attacked during a gift-giving program for the elderly in the eastern province of Albay, local police spokesman Mayvell Gonzales.
In a report, Gonzales said Batocabe suffered several gunshots to the head and torso. He and the escort were pronounced dead at a hospital.
Police do not know the motive but said it could be related to the upcoming election. Batocabe was campaigning for mayor after serving three terms as congressman.
Batocabe, who defended Duterte’s drug war that left thousands dead, is the highest ranking public official slain so far in a rash of killings in the lead up to the May vote. The Philippines is to elect half of the 24-seat Senate, 297 seats in the House of Representatives and about 18,000 local offices across the country.
Last week, a candidate for vice mayor in northern Pangasinan province was killed just a few steps from a church, while last month, two people including a vice mayor, were killed in an ambush.
House Speaker Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, a former president, condemned the killing of Batocabe, who she said was “an ally and a friend.”
“Nothing can justify his murder and that of his police aide,” she said in a brief statement. “I call on our law enforcement agencies to conduct a speedy and thorough investigation to bring all those behind this dastardly act to justice.”
Majority Floor Leader Rolando Andaya said he was shocked by the violence.
“I share the outrage, the pain and the shock of my fellow Bicolanos over the death of my friend and colleague Rodel Batocabe. He was a man of peace and a visionary for progress,” said Andaya, who comes from the same region.
“The laws he had authored and the programs he had initiated will continue to make a difference in the lives of the people he had selflessly served long after he is gone,” he said. “That he was cowardly assassinated while spreading cheer in this season of forgiveness betrays the evil nature of the perpetrators.”
Duterte spokesman Salvador Penelo said the president extended his condolences to the relatives of the slain congressman, and vowed no stone will be left unturned in the investigation.
“Proper authorities are now investigating this brazen murder,” he said.
Two weeks ago, Duterte warned candidates about rising election-related violence and said the attacks were terrorizing people.