‘Popoy’ slay: 3 of 4 suspects identified

By Jaime Laude, The Philippine Star, 10 February 2001

The Philippine National Police's Task Force Popoy has identified three of the four men who gunned down left-wing labor leader File-mon Popoy Lagman at the University of the Philippines campus in Quezon City last Tuesday.

This was revealed by Task Force Popoy head Director Edgar Aglipay even as Camp Crame insiders confirmed that the Lagman slaying was part of moves to undermine the Arroyo administration and discredit the new police leadership.

We have already established the identities of three of the four suspects through scientific investigation we have conducted and from information provided by several witnesses, Aglipay told reporters in a hastily called press briefing at Camp Crame yesterday.

He said witness testimonies had helped identify the three as members of a professional assassination group but refused to disclose their names, or who was suspected of employing their services.

Their days are numbered, said Aglipay, who also also head of the National Capital Regional Police Office (NCRPO).

Lagman, a former communist insurgent chieftain, was shot four times in the head by four unidentified gunmen in front of the Bahay ng Alumni at the UP campus in Diliman, Quezon City late Tuesday afternoon.

The labor leader was accompanied by his son Dante and secretary Michelle CaƱos, who both said at least one of the four suspects looked Police have released sketches of the suspects based on witnesses' accounts, offered a P500,000 bounty and assured a round-the-clock probe but declined to say when the suspects will be arrested or where the suspects are holed up at the moment.

Sources at the Philippine National Police (PNP), however, pointed to a well-organized group from the Visayas as behind Lagman's assassination.

They are all Visayan imports and were former members of the dreaded urban communist hit squad closely identified with several right-wing groups in the uniformed service, the source said.

Earlier, the military intelligence community said it was pursuing reports that Lagman was assassinated by urban hit squads formed by pro-Estrada groups to destabilize the government.

A ranking official of the Intelligence Service of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (ISAFP) disclosed that the group has been recruiting members to destabilize the Arroyo administration over the past two weeks.

The hit squads were recruited from active and ex-military personnel, remnants of the Kuratong Baleleng Gang and other criminal elements in Mindanao, the source added.

The hit squads are allegedly targeting Cabinet members and forces responsible for EDSA II and aims to create a climate of fear and mayhem.

The intelligence report fueled speculations that the communist movement ordered Lagman's killing after he broke away from the group.

But Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) chairman Jose Ma. Sison denied involvement in the slaying and instead blamed other members of Lagman's breakaway group.

However, breakaway leaders Nilo de la Cruz and Arturo Tabara both claimed that although they parted ways with Lagman, their differences were limited to ideology.

Our differences were only debates, De la Cruz said in a television interview. On the other hand, his (Lagman's) differences with Joma (Sison) appear to be very serious and could have resulted in murder.

Tabara echoed De la Cruz but pointed instead at right-wing extremists who are out to destabilize the new government.

Lagman, Tabara and Dela Cruz were known to be among the top leaders of the communist hit squad Alex Boncayao Brigade (ABB) before a falling-out due to ideological differences.

Meanwhile, Lagman's supporters yesterday agreed with theories that the killing was part of a plot to destabilize the Arroyo administration.

Sanlakas president Wilson Fortaleza told The STAR that their group is studying two possible angles on Lagman's killing.

We are looking into two angles, one of them is the possible involvement of elements loyal to the ousted Estrada administration and the other is to stop Lagman's political party from participating in the coming elections, Fortaleza said.

Before his death, Lagman was organizing the Partido ng Manggagawa (PM), a labor party set to be launched next week.

Fortaleza said Sanlakas and the Bukluran ng Manggagawang Pilipino (BMP), which was founded by Lagman, gave the police until Monday to produce the suspected killers.

We are prepared to launch our own investigation if the task force fails to apprehend the suspects, Fortaleza said.

BMP secretary general Leody De Guzman said his group will hold an emergency meeting today to discuss developments in the case and plan Lagman's funeral on Monday.

We will not accept a whitewash of the case, De Guzman said, adding that the 200 unions affiliated with BMP are set to stage a work stoppage to mark Lagman's funeral.