APRIL 2, 2007 (STAR) President Arroyo ordered the Philippine National Police (PNP) yesterday to increase police visibility and intensify the campaign against illegal or "loose" firearms to stem electoral violence as she directed authorities to speed up the investigation into the killing of Quezon congressional candidate Vicente Rabaya Jr.

Press Secretary Ignacio Bunye said while speedy criminal justice "is the best means to show that we mean business, we must also modernize our democratic institutions and values, cut fraud and tone down the heat of power play at all levels."

"President Arroyo wants the killing of congressional candidate Vicente Rabaya Jr. to be resolved as fast as the Bersamin case, and a full teamup of law enforcement agencies is already in place," Bunye said, referring to the assassination in December of Abra Rep. Luis Bersamin Jr. where five suspects have been arrested and charged.

"We sympathize with the family of the victim and assure them of a relentless manhunt for the perpetrators," Bunye said.

Mrs. Arroyo also directed the PNP to intensify police visibility, deploy mobile checkpoints to interdict loose guns and muster community participation to bear down on electoral violence.

He admitted that electoral violence in the country only showed that much is yet to be done to reform the Philippine political culture, which is one of the platform issues of the Arroyo administration.

"The government will apply the full force of the law against all groups and individuals who employ threat and intimidation to undermine suffrage and free choice," Bunye said. "Our political stability must be as straight and steady as our economic stability."

Senior Superintendent Magtanggol Gatdula, Quezon City Police District director, has formed a task force to investigate the killing following orders from PNP chief Director General Oscar Calderon for a speedy investigation.

Calderon also ordered more police checkpoints across Metro Manila.

Calderon reiterated his directive to all PNP regional, provincial, city and municipal police commanders to intensify their campaign on the Comelec-imposed gun ban, the campaign against private armed groups, loose firearms and deadly weapons.

"Now that the election fever has started to heat up, particularly in areas described by the Comelec as ‘areas of immediate concern’ because of the intense political rivalries in those areas, all police field commanders are directed to be vigilant and implement all PNP guidelines for the conduct of honest, orderly and peaceful elections this May," Calderon said. "All PNP commanders should be pro-active, and not reactive, to prevent election-related violent incidents."

Murder on the line Rabaya, who was running for congressman under the Nationalist People’s Coalition in Quezon, was found in the driver’s seat of a Toyota Fortuner parked in front of a used car lot on Katipunan Avenue in Quezon City.

Several guns were found inside the sports utility vehicle. An expired Malacañang identification belonging to one Alforque Pa of the "Office of the Presidential Assistant for Intelligence" was found in the glove compartment.

Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita and Presidential Security Group chief Brig. Gen. Romeo Prestoza denied yesterday that an such an office exists.

Clemente Barcena, head of the QCPD’s homicide division, said Rabaya, 43, had been shot in the head and body.

"He was shot at close range," Barcena told local media. "We’re not accusing anyone but we’re inclined to believe the killing was politically motivated."

Rabaya’s father was quoted by local media as saying he believed his son was killed by hired gunmen.

Gatdula said a mobile phone found in Rabaya’s car revealed that he was talking to an aide, Antonia Cabiles, moments before he was shot dead.

According to Gatdula, Cabiles told the police that she heard the killer’s voice and Rabaya pleading for his life, followed seconds later by gunshots.

"Our police investigators were able to recover a Nokia cell phone of Rabaya during ocular inspection at the crime scene. Subsequent scanning of the cell phone unit revealed that the victim called Cabiles," Gatdula said.

The call was cut during the conversation and Cabiles phoned Rabaya. At this point, police said, Rabaya answered but was unable to talk to Cabiles.

"The line was left hanging that Cabiles was able to hear the details (on) how the crime was perpetrated," Gatdula said.

In her sworn statement to the police, Cabiles said that she heard a male voice utter, "’Wag kang kikibo kundi puputukan kita (Don’t move or I will shoot)!"

Later, the same male voice threatened Rabaya, "Sige, tumakbo ka! Babarilin kita (Go ahead, run! I will shoot you)!"

She also told police she heard a vehicle arrive moments later, and that another male voice said, "’Yan nga si congressman (that’s the congressman)."

After which, Cabiles said she heard Rabaya say, "Sir, huwag po (Sir, please don’t)!" Cabiles then heard two gunshots.

Meanwhile, security guard Macario Ravino, of Bulacan Gardens, told police that he saw two men alight from the Toyota Fortuner, following the gunshots. The men then boarded a waiting Mitsubushi Adventure.

"I directed the special investigating body to gather more evidence, and look for more witnesses. I am urging the public, who may have knowledge about the crime to come out to help solve the crime immediately," Gatdula said.

After midnight Saturday, security guard Jesus Quijano reported to the police about a car suspiciously parked in front of the buy-and- sell car shop.

Policemen from the Project 4 Police Station responded to the scene and discovered Rabaya’s body.

Rabaya’s driver Edizer Sabardo Jr. told police that the provincial board member and his family arrived in Manila from Atimonan, Quezon in the early morning of March 30 and stayed at Bulacan Street, West Triangle in Quezon City.

On the same day, Sabardo said they went to the Iglesia ni Cristo main headquarters along Commonwealth Avenue to seek support for his candidacy. Rabaya is eyeing a congressional seat in the 4th District of Quezon province. He had filed his candidacy on March 28.

Gatdula said that Rabaya initially rented a white Ford Focus (ZGK-450), which he returned on the afternoon of March 30 to ABC All Brand Cars in Malate, Manila. He said Rabaya subsequently rented the Toyota Fortuner.

"The victim went out without his driver that night and went home aboard a taxi," Gatdula told The STAR. "The victim left (home) again aboard a taxi the same night. So, we are currently trying to find out where he left the white Toyota Fortuner and where the two men, who alighted from the car after the incident, came from."

Gatdula said they are currently pursuing several angles in the murder of Rabaya. He said that Rabaya’s slay could be politically motivated or due to the victim’s refusal to pay extortion money to communist rebels operating in Quezon.

But police are puzzled with the information that Rabaya met a woman friend, a resident of Bulacan Street who claimed that the victim arrived at her place on board a taxi.

"What we are trying to check now is where did he park the rented Toyota Fortuner when he boarded the taxi and proceeded to West Triangle. This information might help us lead to the killers of Rabaya," said an investigator.

Political killings are common in the Philippines and international rights groups and the Roman Catholic Church have expressed concerns over the level of violence in the country.

Last week, in the central province of Masbate, a local political leader was killed and three members of a mayor’s civil security group were wounded in separate shootings.

Masbate, an island province of 20 towns and one city, is known for intense political rivalries and the existence of armed groups that have earned it a reputation for being a hotbed of election violence.

In December, Bersamin was assassinated on the front steps of a church in Quezon City. Police said his killing was linked to local political rivalries.

That same month, Pasig Rep. Robert Jaworski Jr. was the target of a car bomb attack in the city but escaped unharmed.

A number of town mayors have been killed in recent weeks.

Mrs. Arroyo has ordered police to break up "private armies" controlled mostly by provincial politicians to prevent pre-election bloodshed. – Paolo Romero, Cecille Suerte Felipe, Katherine Adraneda, AFP

Feeding program to get add’l P4 B By Paolo Romero The Philippine Star 04/02/2007

President Arroyo yesterday called on all sectors to help with the government’s emergency hunger mitigation program even as officials announced that Malacañang will release another P4 billion for the program.

Health Secretary Francisco Duque III, who also heads Malacañang’s anti-hunger task force, said the P1 billion earlier released was not enough for the massive feeding program for poor families through the distribution of rice to schoolchildren.

"The additional P4 billion would be enough for at least 280 more days of our programs or almost a year."

Under the food-for-school program, a kilo of rice and other foodstuffs are given to school children daily as incentives for attending school.

Duque said that, unlike the school-feeding program, the scheme would feed the student and his or her family as well.

With the onset of summer vacation, Duque said, the program will be done with the help of local churches, religious organizations and other religious groups.

One of the schemes include having school children accompanied by a family member go to parish churches once a week to receive five kilos of rice.

Press Secretary Ignacio Bunye said Mrs. Arroyo is calling on all concerned citizens and non-government organizations to join hands with the government in declaring war against hunger through the food-for-school and food-for-work programs, where the poor and unemployed are hired by government for community service work and street cleaning operations.

"Fighting hunger is everybody’s business and we urge non-government organizations and concerned citizens to volunteer to help in this great endeavor. Let the fight against hunger be a vehicle for national unity and a platform of good citizenship for all Filipinos, here and abroad," Bunye said.

He said Duque was also tasked to reach out to various non-government organizations that are into social outreach activities and may have developed their own initiatives to help fight hunger.

Duque, he said, was given strict instructions by Mrs. Arroyo to ensure a strict accounting and complete transparency in the use of the P1-billion war fund against hunger. "Not a single peso out of the P1-B anti-hunger fund will be spent on the elections or to prop up any candidate’s image." – Paolo Romero

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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