By Max Lane
MANILA — Following a demonstration of 200 activists from worker, student and urban poor organisations outside the presidential palace on May 28, the Free Lagman Movement was launched. On May 26 agents of Naval Intelligence arrested Feliman Lagman, underground leader of the Manila Regional Committee of the Communist Party of the Philippines. Lagman, also known as Carlos Forte, remains under detention on a warrant for an alleged kidnapping in 1988.
Lagman has been a part of the socialist underground movement for over 20 years, including during the period of the heightened struggle against the Marcos dictatorship. During this period he lost his wife and brother, who died in the course of this struggle.
While the police and other anti-CPP elements are still pretending that Lagman is being dealt with as a criminal prisoner, it is clear from statements from President Ramos and other high officials that Lagman is in fact a political prisoner. The main thrust of Ramos' announcement of the arrest was that it would be a major blow to the communist movement.
However, the rapidity of the response of the organised left indicates that a serious campaign for Lagman's release is about to get under way. On May 27 the socialist campaign group MAKABAYAN held a picket outside Fort Bonifacio, where Lagman is being held.
A further major mobilisation, sponsored by a broad range of groups, will be held on June 1. Professor Francisco Nemenzo, a member of the political council of BISIG, also in attendance at the May 27 rally, called for the immediate release of Lagman, indicating that the call for his release is likely to spread.
SANLAKAS, a federation of mass organisations in Manila, issued a statement calling for the immediate and unconditional release of Lagman, whom it described as a long-term champion of the interests of the exploited and the poor. SANLAKAS stated that the release of Lagman would be a contribution to the peace process and social progress.
A statement released by MAKABAYAN also protested against the harassment of MAKABAYAN personnel on the same day as the arrest of Lagman. It said three vehicles used by Naval Intelligence blocked the vehicle being used by Makabayan vice-president Sonny Melencio.
At the May 27 rally, organisers were able to circulate a handwritten letter sent by Lagman from prison. In it he reiterated his commitment to the revolutionary struggle and said he would make no compromises to his principles. "The fate of the movement is not at risk when a leader is captured, for the fate of the movement lies in the strength of the revolutionary ideas in the hearts and minds of the masses."
The Manila-Rizal party committee has also issued a statement demanding Lagman's release. It attacked the government for hypocrisy in its negotiations with the CPP. The statement argued that the real purpose of the government is to silence revolutionary leaders. It attacked the government for physically dragging Lagman out of a press conference, where he was presented by Naval Intelligence, as soon as he started to speak.
The statement went on, "We view Lagman's incarceration as proof that the only road to attain freedom and democracy for the oppressed classes is to step up their struggles through revolutionary force".
The statement also affirmed that the organisation has instituted pre-planned measures to activate the collective base of its leadership to ensure that it continues to operate effectively. "We have continually proved to the enemy that this is a party capable of renewing and revitalising itself."
The government has not indicated whether it will quickly release Lagman, as it did Wilma Tiamzon, the recently captured secretary-general of the CPP, aligned with the Sison leadership in the Netherlands. Tiamzon was released into the custody of Catholic bishops while awaiting legal process. This was done as part of confidence building measures to promote ongoing peace talks between the government and the CPP/New Peoples Army. Government spokespersons have stated that it was too early to speculate on any such release.