Lunes, Pebrero 2, 2009

A 'Dirty War' And The Death Of Popoy Lagman

A 'Dirty War' And The Death Of Popoy Lagman

The theories and possible conspiracies in the death of one of the Philippine revolutionary movement’s most controversial figures.


Over a week after Felimon “Popoy” Lagman was gunned down last February 6 in the sprawling campus of the University of the Philippines in Quezon City, all that police could come up with in their investigation are “leads.”

Some crucial leads, however, pointed to the Alex Boncayao Brigade (ABB) and the Revolutionary Proletariat Army (RPA), factionalist groups that bolted the mainstream leftist revolutionary movement several years ago, as possible perpetrators.

The leads include a cartograph of a man that, Popoy’s son Dante said, matches the face of one of the four suspected gunmen he saw at the crime scene.

Another is that the .45 caliber slugs recovered on the scene most likely came from the same pistol used in the killing of Chinese-Filipino businessman Wilson Ong in Valenzuela, Metro Manila, in 1998. The ABB had owned the killing.

Certain eyewitness accounts also said some of the gunmen looked familiar as they used to be seen along with the slain labor leader.

Because the police could not come up with arrests last February 12 – the deadline set by Popoy’s colleagues and, incidentally, the day of his funeral – the Lagman family decided to hire private investigators to ferret out the truth. Former Rep. Edcel Lagman, Popoy’s brother, said police investigators were not moving fast enough. The Lagmans want the gunmen as well as their mastermind arrested. And soon.

Popoy’s murder was turning out to be part of a bigger assassination plot engineered either by his own enemies or by a group identified with ousted president Joseph Estrada seeking to destabilize the newly nstalled government of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.

Theory No. 1

Popoy broke away from the underground Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) in 1993, along with some cadres of the Metro Manila-Rizal Regional Committee. To top it all, he brought along with him the urban guerrilla group ABB, carting away a cache of arms, ammunition and logistics. The factionalism, it is said, was the offshoot of a line struggle in which he espoused urban insurrectionism in place of the protracted people’s war of the mainstream revolutionary movement.

The ABB, headed by Nilo dela Cruz, eventually split with Popoy reportedly due to, among other reasons, a rift over a P250 million payoff deal with the PEA-Amari in 1997 in exchange for the relocation of the slum dwellers in the reclamation land. Two years later, workers at the Philippine Airlines accused Popoy of treachery for reportedly selling out to Estrada crony and PAL owner Lucio Tan in a labor row at the airlines.

Dela Cruz, meanwhile, joined forces with Arturo Tabara who had also formed his own group, the Revolutionary Proletarian Army (RPA). Both men entered into peace talks with Estrada in late 1999 where the former president, along with Philippine National Police chief Gen. Panfilo Lacson, reportedly hatched an assassination plot against exiled National Democratic Front (NDF) chief political consultant Jose Maria Sison.

Popoy’s slaying could be a spin off of this bigger plot against Sison.

In a radio interview on January 31 or a few days before Popoy was killed, Lacson’s arch enemy, cashiered police Col. Reynaldo Beroya, confirmed the plot to kill Sison. Their own accounts as well as other reports suggested that the plot on Sison’s life became operational in May last year with Romulo Kintanar as alleged project officer, along with Tabara, Dela Cruz and police and military intelligence agents.

Kintanar once headed the CPP’s military commission and also bolted the party where he was accused of military adventurism leading to the bloody purge of innocent cadres and Red fighters particularly in Mindanao. He was, at the time the plot to kill Sison was begun, a top official of the government TESDA.

In the plot to kill Sison was a five-man hit team headed allegedly by one Joey Mortera (aka Redford) and Nana, the chief triggerman. Reports said that Sison, while crossing the street to the NDF office in Utrecht, the Netherlands, was about to be shot but the assassins backed out upon seeing a child being carried by the target.

The backup triggerman was eventually arrested and detained by the Dutch police thus aborting the October plot. Another plot was scheduled last December but was likewise aborted.

Reports said Popoy could have known of the plot considering he had personal ties with Kintanar. His second wife (the first was killed by Marcos soldiers during martial law) is the sister of Edgar Jopson while Kintanar’s second wife is the widow of Jopson. (Jopson, an Ateneo moderate who turned national democrat, was killed by Marcos agents in 1982 in Mindanao, southern Philippines.)

In a statement last week, the NDF said that the RPA-ABB could have killed Popoy on suspicion that he leaked the plot. Popoy was said to have been consulted by military agents in connection with the plot to kill Sison.

Leaders of the RPA-ABB have long been denounced for being “military assets.” In fact, the group was accused a week ago by Rafael Coscolluela, governor of Negros Occidental in the Visayas, for collaborating with the police and military in anti-insurgency operations. They have also been accused of acting, in the guise of rounding up petty criminals, as the private army of Marcos and Estrada crony Eduardo Cojuangco in his vast plantations in the same province.

The police cartographs and eyewitness accounts so far matched those of certain RPA-ABB elements and the slugs were similar to those used by the group in Ong’s killing in 1998, an incident owned by the group for what they claimed was the victim’s “anti-labor” practices.

If this indeed was a strong lead found by police investigators, why the apparent delay in arresting the alleged culprits and brains as their whereabouts are probably known to police and military authorities? Is the RPA-ABB, so far the prime suspect in Popoy’s murder, indeed enjoying protection from certain top military and police officials?

Sison, meanwhile, has long been wanted by security forces since his release from Marcos imprisonment in 1986. His and his family’s passports had been canceled. There is likewise a long-standing reward for his capture, dead or alive.

Other Theories

Popoy could have also been killed as part of a destabilization plot by a group of political cronies and military loyalists of Estrada.

A coup plot had been revealed late last year at the height of the jueteng (illegal numbers game) scandal and constitutional crisis involving Estrada. The plot was to be staged by his cronies and military allies with the aim of installing a junta where Estrada would act as figurehead president. The plot has been confirmed by Justice Secretary Hernando Perez when he appeared before the Supreme Court on February 15.

Reportedly part of the plot was the December 30 bombings in Metro Manila where scores of innocent civilians including children were killed and almost a hundred wounded. Police were quick to blame the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) for the bombings but its leaders denied any involvement. A dawn raid was mounted by military agents on a Moro community in Quezon City but, finding no evidence, those arrested were released except at least three who were instead charged with “illegal possession of firearms.”

Before the explosions, however, was the November 24 abduction of public-relations man Salvador “Bubby” Dacer and his driver. Close to both Estrada and former president Fidel Ramos, Dacer was said to be in possession of damning information that would have tightened the impeachment case against Estrada. Dacer was suspected of leading a “demolition job” against Estrada and he was silenced probably to preempt any further damage on the president. Estrada had earlier denied any role in Dacer’s disappearance. Still, groups loyal to him could have staged his abduction with or without his knowledge.

But with his ouster on January 20, the group loyal to Estrada became more desperate to stage a comeback to regain power and this was to be achieved by reactivating the coup plan. President Arroyo herself warned she would crush any coup plot against the new administration. A few days later, Popoy was gunned down.

Sources formerly privy to Estrada theorize that this elaborate plan would be preceded by an orchestrated move consisting of a possible assassination as well as legal, legislative and political activities, including the use of “mass mobilizations” and pressure crowds. The pro-Estrada crowds now massing up outside the Supreme Court and other government offices could be part of a build-up.

According to this rightist plan, Popoy’s killing would incite his colleagues to retaliate against suspected militant organizations or would just simply provoke actions that would have a destabilizing effect on the new administration. Such a scenario is similar to the plots in 1986 and 1987 where, respectively, Kilusang Mayo Uno (May 1 Movement) president Rolando Olalia and his driver Leonor Alay-ay were abducted, hogtied and tortured before they were killed in Antipolo, Rizal, and Bayan secretary general Lean Alejandro was ambushed in cold blood in Quezon City.

The killings were instigated by a rightist military group allegedly with a politician’s backing and were meant to enrage the organized Left and take vengeance on the new Aquino government. But with the identities of the killers and their mastermind already established, the militants never allowed themselves to be used by these provocations that would have led to further bloodshed and the plotters taking over government in the end. Justice, the militants thought, would take its own course later.

Other theories said that Popoy, who was identified closely with the ABB before, courted many enemies including the police and incorrigible company executives. In a moment of security lapse, the ever alert Popoy was gunned down in a reprisal .

But he could also have been a victim of a covert move by US or US-backed psy-war experts in the AFP and the police force to initiate yet another process of purging the legal radical mass movement that has, despite its various ideological colors, recently renewed its challenge to the reactionary establishment and American security interests in the Philippines. In the new millennium, this cold war mentality remains a danger.

This theory is not entirely without basis. In the Aquino presidency, rightist elements in the AFP and police instigated the Mendiola massacre of January 1987 in the process scuttling the peace talks between government and the NDF. This was followed by an all-out war against the revolutionary movement, at the center of which was the US-devised low-intensity conflict (LIC). The LIC “dirty war” resulted, among others, in the extermination of mass leaders in the cities and mass terror in the countryside. But a series of coup d’etat was also mounted against the government. The Aquino administration was given no respite and no chance to repair the economy until a new government led by a former Marcos police general came into power. #

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