MANILA — Police Tuesday arrested two men, including a one-time Muslim separatist leader close to ousted ruler Ferdinand E. Marcos, in the killings of a key member of President Corazon Aquino's Cabinet and his driver.
Police said that Amelil Malaquiok, 45, may have been behind Sunday's assassination of Local Governments Secretary Jaime Ferrer, 70, and his driver in the Manila suburb of Paranaque.
The other suspect was identified as Gerry Justo, 21. Police said witnesses identified him as one of three gunmen who attacked Ferrer as he was returning from church.
Metropolitan Manila Governor Jejomar Binay said the Ferrer slaying was part of a grand design to overthrow Aquino, who has survived four attempted coups and mutinies by Marcos supporters since assuming power in a civilian-backed military revolt in February, 1986.
Ferrer was a chief supporter of the controversial anti-Communist vigilante groups formed earlier this year to help fight leftist insurgents in the countryside. The Communist New People's Army had listed him as a possible assassination target.
Malaquiok is a former leader in the Moro National Liberation Front, which has conducted a 15-year struggle for Muslim self-rule in the Mindanao-Sulu region 500 miles south of Manila.
Known as Commander Ronnie, Malaquiok surrendered with an armed band to Marcos, who was then the Philippine president, in the late 1970s. Marcos appointed him head of a semi-autonomous administrative body on Mindanao Island. He served for several years until unseated in a 1984 election.
Paranaque Mayor Rodolfo Buenavista said Malaquiok was undergoing questioning after his arrest in a wealthy section of Manila.
"They are out to destabilize the government," Buenavista said of Malaquiok's group.
However, Paranaque's police chief, Maj. Jose Balbas, said that Malaquiok denied involvement in the murder of Ferrer.
"We will release (Malaquiok) if we don't get any evidence," Balbas said. "Up to this time we cannot establish his involvement."
Justo was arrested earlier in nearby Quezon city, police said.
Meanwhile, gunmen believed to be Communist rebels killed six people Tuesday in Cebu, including two traffic policemen shot to death in front of dozens of frightened schoolchildren. Most of the victims were police. Cebu, 350 miles south of Manila, is the country's second biggest city.
Later in the day, assailants thought to be guerrillas of the New People's Army killed a third traffic policemen in Mandaue, a Cebu suburb.