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Remembering Rodel

/ 05:12 AM December 31, 2018

The bullets that killed him ricocheted a thousand times and went on to impair the capacity for laughter of his
endeared friends.

On Dec. 22, Ako Bicol party-list Rep. Rodel Batocabe was distributing gifts to senior citizens and persons with disability in his hometown, Daraga, Albay. He was about to leave when motorcycle-riding men, wearing black bonnets, shot and killed him. His police aide, Orlando Diaz, was also slain.

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Rodel was on his last term as party-list congressman. He had filed his candidacy for Daraga mayor in the 2019 elections. I cannot imagine the depth of pain felt by his wife, Gertie, because he was killed on their wedding anniversary. He left behind two sons, Justin and Kiel.

Rodel and I were batch mates at both the School of Economics and College of Law of the University of the Philippines in Quezon City. While we were still in law school, together with former presidential spokesperson Harry Roque, we formed a consultancy by providing research and speech materials to congresspersons and city councilors, as our means of augmenting our school allowances. The three of us were the children of public school teachers, and the common upbringing and the modest means of our parents may have been factors that gelled us together.

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Rodel and Harry went on to work as full-time staff of congresspersons while still law students. Two decades later, they both became members of Congress as party-list representatives.

After we became lawyers, we defied warnings of unviability from senior lawyers by forming our own law partnership very early in our careers. With no starting capital to rent an office initially, we met under an acacia tree beside a sari-sari store in Quezon City to discuss the early cases we took on.

In one case we handled, we would spend the weekend in our client’s Boracay island resort before attending the court hearings in Kalibo. On hearing day, we would leave Boracay still wearing our beach shorts, and we carried our barong shirts, pants and leather shoes as we rode the boat to Caticlan. On one occasion, Rodel forgot to bring his pants, so he ended up appearing in court clad in barong Tagalog, leather shoes and beach shorts.  Judge Marietta Homena accepted his apologies, but she was constantly laughing staring at Rodel making serious argumentation in beach shorts. In the history of the Philippine legal profession, Rodel must have been the only one to have pulled such a stunt.

There are a thousand and one funny stories about Rodel, because he was the quintessential funnyman. He was the life of any party, because he irreverently made fun of everyone regardless of one’s fame or fortune. Even the way he talked, walked and gesticulated were sources of constant laughter to his friends. The fact that 153 of his congressional colleagues swiftly came together to contribute a P30-million bounty for information on his killers, shows that they feel the painful loss of Rodel.

During meetings, his default mode was to crack jokes and, in the process, he brightened discussions that were stiffly formal. He was an effective mediator because of his ability to break the ice, which softened seemingly irreconcilable differences. I may not have agreed with his politics, but he was such a bright spirit that I and many other friends couldn’t help liking him.

But behind his comic personality, Rodel was a serious legislator. He was the principal author of a variety of important laws, earning him a University of the Philippines “Distinguished Alumnus for Public Service and Good Governance” award in 2017.

Gertie now faces the burden of substituting for the candidacy of her slain husband. Their eldest son, Justin, is also vying to replace his father as Ako Bicol party-list congressman. The only way to stop the criminal perpetrators from achieving their goal is for both Gertie and Justin to run and win, because they strongly feel that Rodel’s political rivals are behind his murder.

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My law school classmates and I flew to Daraga last week to bid our final farewell to Rodel. Streamers were hanging all over Legazpi City and Daraga calling for justice for our dear friend. On Rodel’s face was the pained look of a wronged man thirsting for justice.

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