'Popoy' slain in UP ambush

- Romel Bagares () - February 7, 2001 - 12:00am
Prominent leftist labor leader Felimon "Popoy" Lagman was killed after being shot at close range by four unidentified men inside the University of the Philippines (UP) campus in Quezon City yesterday.

President Arroyo ordered Philippine National Police chief Deputy Director General Leandro Mendoza to immediately investigate the killing of Lagman, who once headed the urban hit squad Alex Boncayao Brigade of the Communist Party of the Philippines-New People’s Army (CPP-NPA).

"The arrest of the perpetrators must be done at the soonest possible time," Mrs. Arroyo said in an official statement.

As of midnight last night, no group has claimed responsibility for Lagman’s killing.

"Task Force Popoy" was formed last night composed of the Philippine National Police,the National Bureau of Investigation, the PNP-Criminal Investigation and Detection Group and the Central Police District.

The task force was set up after an hour-long meeting among Lagman’s brother, former Albay Rep. Edcel Lagman, and Interior Secretary Jose Lina, PNP chief Deputy Director General Leandro Mendoza, NBI chief Reynaldo Wycoco and Metro Manila police chief Director Edgar Aglipay.

Lina said the killing was "an isolated incident." He and Mendoza vowed to get the perpetrators.

Reports said Lagman, who is chairman of the militant Bukluran ng Manggagawang Pilipino (BMP), died of four gunshot wounds in the head. He was shot with caliber .45 automatics.

Former Congressman Lagman told reporters his brother was declared dead at 9:10 last night, several hours after he was shot in the head at close range by four unidentified men inside the UP campus.

"Popoy lived dangerously," he said. "He had determined assassins. It (his killing) could have happened any day."

Fr. Robert Reyes administered the last rites on Lagman, before he was formally declared dead. His remains will be brought today to UP’s Parish of the Holy Sacrifice.

Quezon City police investigator Senior Inspector Rudy Jaraza told reporters they have recovered two caliber .45 shells from the scene.

Witnesses said a third gunman shot Lagman twice in the head as he fell on the ground after the first two gunmen shot him in the head.

Witnesses took Lagman to the nearby Philippine Heart Center along East Avenue.

A neurosurgeon identified only as Doctor Mariano of the St. Luke’s Hospital apologized after declaring Lagman dead. "I did everything I could," he said. "A bullet hit the base of his brain which controls major bodily functions."

Lagman was supposed to turn 48 on March 17. He had just alighted from his car and was about to meet with about 500 members of a left-wing group at the UP Alumni Center when the four men, two of them wearing masks, mixed with the crowd and shot him.

His son Dante said he tried to run after one of the gunmen but was shot at. The suspects then commandeered a car of a passerby to flee. The car was later recovered in Barangay Palawis not far from the UP Campus.

Dr. Aurora Parong of Task Force Detainees, one of the groups sponsoring the UP forum, told The STAR: "We heard gunshots ring out. Then a woman was crying for help."

Kit Belmonte, a UP law student, told The STAR yesterday he was introducing Edcel Lagman at the forum as a congressional candidate in Quezon City when he heard the gunshots.

BMP leaders said the killing of Lagman was a "politically motivated act" that was meant to scare militant labor groups.

"The crime is designed to decapitate the workers’ movement of an able leader and frighten militant labor into submission," they said.

BMP leaders said Lagman made many enemies as a communist revolutionary and as a labor leader after he decided to leave the underground. He still has at least two pending warrants of arrest, one for the alleged killing of a suspected drug lord and another for the alleged assassination of barangay official Rey de la Cruz in Quiapo, Manila.

Lagman is believed to have led the urban hit squad Alex Boncayao Brigade and the break with the mainstream CPP under Jose Ma. Sison in 1993, claiming the leadership had become "Stalinist."

He said the Maoist party’s "protracted people’s war" insurgency policy was no longer acceptable.

After his release from military custody in 1995, Lagman organized the BMP and other militant, factory-based labor unions.

Lagman and his group had demanded not only for the resignation of President Joseph Estrada, but also of Mrs. Arroyo.

In 1977, Hermond, a Lagman sibling and labor lawyer, was abducted allegedly by the military. Up to now, he remains missing and is believed to be dead. – With reports from Mayen Jaymalin, Jaime Laude, Liberty Dones, Jess Diaz

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