The alleged "gun for hire" slain Saturday in Kapatagan, Lanao del Norte was a cadre of a splinter leftist group with no connection to the March 1 murder of doctor-to-the-barrios Dreyfuss Perlas, according to a spokesman of the Revolutionary People's Army (RPA) and the Rebolusyonaryong Partido ng Manggagawa-Mindanao (RPMM).
Harold Fernandez, speaking for the RPA/RPMM's National Operational Command, told ABS-CBN News that Agapito Tamparong was unarmed when a composite team of soldiers and cops shot him dead.
“Tamparong has never been a gun for hire; he has never been involved in unrevolutionary activities,” Fernandez said in an interview conducted online following the release of the group’s statement on the Saturday killing.
“He could not have also been the suspect in Dr. Perlas’ killing because on the day he was killed, Ka Ruben (Tamparong’s nom de guerre) had just been released from the hospital for an ailment,” he added.
The RPA/RPMM broke away from the Communist Party of the Philippines and the New People’s Army (CPP-NPA) in the late 1980s when ideological differences rocked Asia’s longest running insurgency. The group is composed of members of the CPP’s central Mindanao unit, which also covers the island’s northwestern provinces.
It took the name Revolutionary People’s Army after falling out with the Revolutionary Proletarian Army, which is largely based in Negros Island, with some members also operating in Luzon.
Fernandez said Tamparong had just dropped by friends before proceeding to his area of operation.
He acknowledged that the unarmed Tamparong – given two other different aliases by authorities – had tried to “evade” arresting officers out to serve warrants for double murder and frustrated murder.
“They did not have to kill him,” Fernandez stressed. “We are investigating the incident as we have been investigating the murder of Dr. Perlas, who is considered a hero in Lanao del Norte. We want to know whether their lies are meant to cover-up the extra-judicial killing of Ka Ruben or to cover-up the real identity of the killers, or to ease the pressure of public clamor for justice."
Previous to the Saturday slay, there had been no word about the identities of suspects in the killing of Perlas, the municipal health officer of Sapad town.
The doctor, citing the need for more doctors to minister for Lanao del Norte’s rural poor, had opted to stay on after finishing the pay-back required of government medical scholars.
Some reports, angry at the spread of the term EJK in relation to Perlas’ death, claimed the murder stemmed from an argument with a patient whose request for hospitalization was turned down.
A statement by alumni of the Pi Omicron Fraternity, which Perlas had joined as a student in the University of the Philippines Los Banos campus, slammed the use of EJK in Perlas’ death.
“We condemn those who have put his death into political play, unjustly pigeonholing it in the ignoble company of the many illegal drug pushers and addicts slain as of late! To imply that his death was state-sponsored is ridiculous and low,” said a statement signed by Bertrand Somera, president of the Pi Omicron International Alumni Association.
While EJK has been used to describe thousands of killings of suspected drug addicts and street-level pushers under President Rodrigo Duterte’s government, its traditional use also includes the killings of activists and other persons who have run afoul of state authorities or politicians and other groups that often use government security forces.
Fernandez told ABS-CBN News that Tamparong’s duties were in towns some distance away from Perlas’ sphere of duty.
“Malayo po ang hospital ni Doc Drey. Sa ibang ospital pumunta si Ka Ruben,” he added. (Ka Ruben went to a different hospital, far away from Doc Drey’s place.)
The RPA/RPMM accused members of the Bravo Company of the 15th Infantry Brigade of the 3rd Infantry Division as those behind Tamparong’s killing.
The team was reportedly headed by 1Lt. Marlouie S. Dicen, 2ndLt Fernando Oliveros Jr. under the command of Lt. Col. Audie A. Mongao of the 15th IB 3rd ID battalion unit. The group said “scores” of cops from Kapatagan were also involved in the Barangay Tiacongan incident.
“Ka Ruben was an active member of the RPA and a cadre who was serious about defending the poor against oppressive forces, including those involved in drugs,” Fernandez said.However, he said the group did not support the methods used in the government’s “Operation Tokhang.”Sun.Star daily in Cagayan de Oro quoted Dicen as saying the slain man was also a suspect in a series of shooting incidents in the town and in nearby municipalities of the province.He said an informant had tipped them off to Tamparong’s presence.
"When the troops were approaching the area, the suspect noticed and suddenly ran which resulted to a pursuit operation, until he was cornered beside the rice field at Purok 8, Barangay Bagong Silang, Kapatagan,” according to the after-action report quoted by Sun.Star.
One of Tamparong’s companions managed to escape, the report said, while four others were released because they were not armed.
While the AFP and the PNP tagged Tamparong as a suspect in Perlas’ slay, they did not explain how he was identified or who “hired” him to kill the doctor.
Fernandez said Tamparong “made a quick decision to evade the state forces being unarmed himself… He was alone and only armed with a cellular phone because he was in the place to visit a family friend and the masses.”
The RPA-RPMM spokesman added: “Given the number of the armed operatives at the scene, the intention was really to eliminate Comrade Ruben. It was murder as can be seen by the number of bullets… It was crystal clear and very revealing that the said operation was mainly a military operation rather than a police one. That is if warrant of his arrest was supposed to be served at him.”
He said there are many unsolved cases and rampant illegal activities in Lanao del Norte, including Kapatagan.
"Either they are covering up something or made our comrade the convenient 'face' from the criminality they have ignored or failed to curb," Fernandez added.
Tamparong had a wife but no children, according to Fernandez.