PHILIPPINES: Popoy Lagman assassinated

Wednesday, February 14, 2001

BY BEN REID
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MANILA — The leader of the militant BMP trade union federation and prominent leftist, Filemon "Popoy" Lagman, was assassinated on February 6. Four gunmen opened fire while Lagman was visiting the Diliman campus of the University of the Philippines.

Happening just weeks after the fall of President Joseph Estrada, it is the first political assassination to occur under the new regime of Gloria Macapagal Arroyo and signals the possible beginning of a campaign of terror targeting the country's leftist movement.

Many suspect that a rightist faction of the military loyal to the ousted president Joseph Estrada was behind the killing, with the intention of destabilising Arroyo's government and sowing intrigue among the competing armed factions of the left. The assassins have not yet been apprehended, although two suspects have been identified.

Lagman was a long-time leader of the country's revolutionary movement. Joining the underground Communist Party of the Philippines in the 1970s and rising to become the head of its metro Manila unit, he played a central part in the movement against the dictatorship of Ferdinand Marcos.

When the urban-based strategy of Lagman and other Manila party leaders came into conflict with the dogmatic pronouncements of CPP chairperson Jose Maria Sison, the entire metro Manila unit split from the party and turned its attention to the urban mass movement. The BMP, with Lagman at its head, was formed in 1995, as part of the Sanlakas federation of mass organisations.

While the BMP and Sanlakas have since undergone a series of sometimes acrimonious splits, Lagman was still widely regarded as a revolutionary leader of considerable stature.

The assassination was made to appear the work of rival left factions, an impression possibly aided by Sison who publicly implicated other leftists in Lagman's slaying. The CPP chairperson refused to express even a modicum of sympathy or solidarity in his public statements.

Most on the left, however, condemned the killing of the veteran leader. Liddy Napcil-Alandjro of the Anti-Trapo Movement, a coalition which groups many left organisations opposed to Estrada, stated she was "outraged by the cruelty of this act".

"His death appears to follow the pattern that occurred after the anti-Marcos revolt", she said. "Right-wing military groups stepped up terror and repression against the left as a way of destabilising the new regime and in this instance sowing intrigue within the progressive movement."

Sonny Melencio of the Socialist Party of Labour agreed: "Popoy remained a political militant and his assassination is an attack on the whole progressive movement."

"While it may be prejudging the situation, it appears to be part of a destabilisation campaign aimed at the current administration of Gloria Macapagal Arroyo by pro-Estrada loyalists. It demonstrates the instability and hollowness of democracy in the Philippines."

"It is really only the military that had the capacity to carry out an assassination such as this. It follows the pattern of the December 31 bombing that was attributed to the Islamic rebels in Mindanao. We have very low expectations that justice will be done."

Wilson Fortoleza, the spokesperson for Sanlakas, stated "Ka Popoy was not only the leader of the most militant labour union organisation but a true-blooded revolutionary and socialist. So he had a lot of enemies: the state, the capitalists and rivals within the leftist movement. He earned a lot of enemies, but also a lot of friends."

"We are not pointing our fingers at any group at this time. What is certain is that this act was a politically motivated attack against the enemies of the ruling class."