FEBRUARY 9, 2001
Ka Popoy Lagman: People Power visionary
YES, he was. Although we're sure both the middle-class civil society crowd and the orthodox Left led by Jose Ma. Sison would scoff at the idea. Derided as a Mafia-like union boss by big businesses, an urban terrorist by the military, and later as a capitulationist by mainstream communists, Filemon "Popoy" Lagman actually had been pushing for what we would later on call "People Power'' as early as the late 1970s.
It was on April 1978 that Lagman and the Communist Party of the Philippines' Manila-Rizal Committee he headed spearheaded what really was the prototype for the first People Power in 1986. That was the metropolitan-wide "noise barrage" against the dictatorship. On the eve of the Batasan Pambansa elections, thousands of Manila residents stepped outside their houses banging pots and pans as motorists honked their horns to first shout that now classic protest-cry: "Tama na, sobra na (Enough of the Marcos dictatorship)!''
Not only that. Lagman led his metropolitan party organization to a tack preposterously ''bourgeois'' then for communists, but which now is becoming an accepted practice, even a required one for political struggles of the Left. This is participation in the elections and the forging of alliances with non-communist organizations. Lagman pushed for the Left's participation in the 1978 Batasan Pambansa elections, and its setting up of alliances with non-communist groups.
Lagman however defied the Communist Party's official policy of non-participation in the "bourgeois elections." For that, he was pulled out of his post as leader of the metropolitan party organization and assigned as an unarmed rural organizer. His first wife Dodi Garduce was dispatched elsewhere.
It was that episode which created in Lagman that deep anger which almost always shows when one talks to him. "We were sent out really to be slaughtered," he once told me. "We were told to organize peasants, but given only this old paltik (a homemade gun) for our defense." His wife Dodi was killed in an ambush by the military in a Central Luzon area that had little NPA presence.
As a communist leader though, Lagman formulated his idea for a People Power revolt within Marxist historiography. That is, he argued that the model for Philippine revolution couldn't be the rural-based Maoist "protracted war." It should rather be the urban-based Russian Revolution, both its 1905 and 1917 phases.
People out in the streets in the nation's capital led by a core of political activists, calling for an unwanted leader to step down. The military then defecting to join them. That was the Russian Revolution. That was also People Power I and People Power II.
It wasn't something Lagman just thought of by poring over Leninist tracts. For most of his revolutionary career, he was head of the Communist Party's Manila-Rizal Committee in charge of the insurgents' metropolitan organization.
He realized that the locus of political power in the country had moved since the 1950s from rural fiefdoms to metropolitan Manila. Even the bulk of the poor was no longer in rural areas but in urban centers. His assignment to the countryside under "disciplinary action" made him realize that the country didn't have the vast, isolated hinterlands China had where a Red Army could be raised, and a Red Base established.
For Lagman though, it wasn't just a vague or general, "People Power." He saw it as "Worker Power," which meant that the Left's organizing work should be in the factories. After all, sons of peasants had moved from the countrysides to escape poverty into the urban areas, to fall into a different type of impoverishment. They also had the most stake in a better government, and they had the numbers for an urban uprising.
The strength of unions now owes a lot to Lagman, and his urban guerrilla group, the Alex Boncayao Brigade (ABB). The ABB may have been a ruthless hit squad, and it deteriorated in the 1990s as a kidnap-for-ransom gang.
It was originally organized though as a union's self-defense unit. Under Lagman, it "leveled the playing field" for unions. Sweatshop owners and unscrupulous big businessmen in Manila for decades had routinely hired goons and even policemen to stop workers' unions. It was the ABB which became the counterforce against them.
Lagman missed out on the first People Power, as he had to follow the policy of the communist hierarchy to dissociate from the Cory-led opposition. That was the last straw for him. After debating unsuccessfully since 1986 with the communist leadership, urging it to change the party's tack toward what we now call a "People Power" model of revolt, he broke away from the Communist Party in 1991.
This time around though, he was deeply involved in the second People Power. He had only two weeks to celebrate that victory.
Many at the second People Power were simple citizens outraged by Estrada's corruption. However, a big part of the militant core of People Power II, especially at its early stages, were from the Left--whose evolution in the past few years Lagman had a big role in.