TUGUEGARAO CITY?An undersecretary of the Department of Agriculture (DA), whose tasks included the oversight of multibillion-peso presidential pet projects in the north, was shot dead on his way alone to a farm in Solana, Cagayan, Tuesday morning.
Slain was Gumersindo Lasam, who was also one of the DA regional chiefs who told a Senate inquiry last November how they merely implemented orders for the disbursement of funds from then Agriculture Undersecretary Jocelyn ?Joc-joc? Bolante, the alleged architect of the P728-million fertilizer scam.
Malacañang has offered a P1-million reward for information leading to the killers of Lasam, 63, a veterinarian who rose from the ranks since joining what was then the Ministry of Agriculture in 1970.
It was the second murder of a senior government official in two months. But there have been two other ambuscades targeting government officials, injuring two.
The Palace made a similar offer to track down suspects in the March 11 ambush of Public Works Undersecretary Ramon Aquino. Shot in broad daylight just outside his Manila office, Aquino died in a hospital eight days later.
Lasam was driving his Isuzu Fuego 4x4 pickup on Tuesday when attacked by two men on an irrigation bridge in Barangay (Village) Basi West at around 7:15 a.m., police said.
The suspects apparently waited for Lasam, then immediately fled the scene on a motorbike after the shooting. There were no other motorists crossing the bridge at that early hour, but the shots were heard by a group of farm workers who happened to be near the area.
The victim?s vehicle bore five bullet holes, including two on the windshield, while police recovered at least two .45-cal. shells from the scene.
Lasam died two hours later while being treated at the St. Paul University Hospital in Tuguegarao.
At the time of his death, Lasam was concurrently serving the department as regional executive director (RED) for Region II (Cagayan Valley), and was also a member of the Board of Regents of the Cagayan State University.
Senior Supt. Virgilio Moro Lazo, Cagayan police director, said investigators are looking into Lasam?s professional and personal activities to establish possible motives.
?Most senior and the best?
In Manila, Agriculture Secretary Arthur Yap condemned the killing, saying Lasam?s death was ?a great loss not only to his family but to Philippine agriculture and to the Department, which he had served excellently and faithfully for many, many years.?
?He was the most senior and inarguably the best of all the REDs,? Yap said in a statement. ?We deeply mourn his death and hope that an immediate and thorough police investigation will soon bring the perpetrators of this heinous crime to justice.?
Yap said Lasam played a key role in advancing two of the DA?s major initiatives under the Arroyo administration.
Yap was referring to Lasam?s involvement in the Comprehensive Livelihood and Emergency Employment Program (CLEEP) for Region II, and the P42-billion FIELDS program (Fertilizer, Irrigation, Farm-to-Market Roads, Education and Extension Works, Loans, Dryers and other Post Harvest Facilities and Seeds).
Under Lasam?s watch, Yap added, the Cagayan Valley region exceeded its growth targets for the rice and corn sectors, contributing substantially to the expansion of Philippine agriculture in the past few years.
In Camp Crame, the Philippine National Police (PNP) created the six-member Task Force Lasam headed by Senior Supt. James Melad to investigate the killing.
Yap and PNP spokesperson Chief Supt. Nicanor Bartolome said Malacañang had offered a P1-million reward for information leading to the suspects? arrest.
?Even as investigating teams of the PNP are continuously working hard to solve these cases, we believe that the reward offer will assist in our efforts by encouraging more witnesses to come out with new information to achieve a breakthrough in the investigation of these high-profile murder cases,? PNP Director General Jesus Verzosa said in a statement. Reports from Estanislao Caldez and Villamor Visaya Jr., Inquirer Northern Luzon; Riza T. Olchondra, Tarra Quismundo and Loriz Layague in Manila; and Agence France-Presse