Biyernes, Hulyo 3, 2009

A Revolutionary to the end

by Jose Torres Jr.
The Sunday Paper, Vol. 2, No. 17, Feb. 11-17, 2001

He was a dreamer until the end. He dreamt of a society where those who toil could taste the sweetness of the fruits of their sweat and blood. He was a rebel, too, a revolutionary who wanted change. Filemon Lagman wanted a world where the voice of the working class is heard and their dreams fulfilled.

In the last few days of his life until the very day of his ambush. Lagman was discussing with union leaders the formation of the Partido ng Manggagawa. The day of his burial, February 12, will also be the day the party is born.

The Partido ng Manggagawa, however, should not be confused with the clandestine Partido ng Manggagawang Pilipino (PMP), which was allegedly founded by Lagman on January 30, 1999. The PMP was formed by former underground cadres who earlier left or were expelled by the Maoist Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) due to iedological differences.

Parliamentary struggle

The Partido ng Manggagawa is Lagman's legacy to the working class whom he served from more than three decades. Lagman once said that although he views "bourgeois elections" as nothing but a periodic opportunity for workers to choose who among the ruling class will be given the chance to fool and rob them, "I find nothing inconsistent in participating in the bougeois parliamentary struggle for the purpose of advancing the mass struggle."

For instance, the Bukluran ng Manggagawang Pilipino (BMP), anothetr labor group formed by Lagman, upholds the mass struggle as its "basic form of struggle." The group, however, said they are also prepared to participate, in a "flexible way," in the electoral struggle "to develop the parliamentary flank of the mass movement."

Lagman played an important role in the formation of Sanlakas. He described it as "a broad coalition for the people's general welfare, for nationalist and democratic struggle, and the people's legislative and political agenda." Sanlakas won a seat in the House of Representatives in the 1998 elections.

"We expect it to develop its own initiative and integrity as an organization independent of the working class and political forces within the coalition," Lagman said in an earlier interview.

Although the BMP exerted its influence to support Sanlakas' political line and program, the labor group made it a point to uphold Sanlakas' organizational structure and principles. Lagman believed that Sanlakas could only be effective if it can fully develop its own positive identity, dynamism and spontaneity in the general democratic movement and not allow "conspirational organizations" to manipulate its organizational processes.

"We would like to see Sanlakas develop as a major political force in the people's struggle for freedom and democracy," said Lagman.

This coming May, Sanlakas would participate in the elections as a representative of a broader sector of society while the newly formed Partido ng Manggagawa would mainly carry the issues of the labor sector.

Popoy's trust rating

Lagman worked in the underground movement for years, but he gained popularity comparable to that of a minor Cabinet Secretary.

In 1998, a survey made by the Social Weather Stations (SWS) revealed that 37 percent of the public had heard of, or had ever read about, Popoy Lagman. SWS's Mahar Mangahas said that would make the revolutionary, "not quite nationally famous, but moderately well-known."

The SWS had the data in its archive because Popoy's brother, then senatorial aspirant Edcel Lagman, commissioned the survey group to obtain it. What Edcel basically wanted, Mangahas said, was to find out whether the fact of Popoy's being his brother was a burden to his bid for the Senate.

SWS analysis showed that Edcel was getting better-than-average proportions of votes from people who trusted Popoy and even from those merely neutral about Popoy. From those who positively distrusted Popoy, Edcel's votes were simply average. So there was no loss to Edcel, and everything to gain, from Popoy's becoming better known.

In the said survey, the public's regard for Popoy was rather neutral. Among those who knew him, 30 percent said they trusted him and 28 percent said they did not, for a net trust rating of merely +2. A plurality of 36 percent chose to sit on the fence between trust and distrust, and the remainder did not answer at all.

Mangahas explained that using the net trust score, Popoy appears to be relatively trusted in Luzon (net trust of +10 in the northern half and +11 in the southern half) but relatively distrusted in Metro Manila (-8), Visayas (-6), and Mindanao (-3). As might be expected, he is relatively trusted by the D and E socio-economic classes (net trust of +5 in both cases), but relatively distrusted by the ABC classes (-8).

"I would say that, for a person formerly with an underground rebel movement, having a neutral public image is already quite favorable," Mangahas said.

A revolutionary life

Lagman's revolutionary life started when he quits his studies at the University of the Philippines and went underground during the martial law years. Lagman rose from the ranks to the chairmanship of the Manila-Rizal regional committee of the CPP in mid-70s.

Under Lagman's leadership, the committee won a certain level of autonomy, even devising new and creative ways of pursuing their Leftist ideology. He developed a formidable "united front" with the so-called middle forces. CPP higher-ups, however, ousted Lagman from the Manila-Rizal committee and reassigned him to the Bicol region.

By the mid-80s, Lagman was sent back to Manila and regained the leadership of the committee. He later declared urban warfare urban warfare against the Marcos dictatorship using the urban hit squad Alex Boncayao Brigade (ABB).

By the early '90s, Lagman and most of the leading cadres of the Manila-Rizal committee decided to breakaway from the mainstream CPP. Among those considered by the CPP leadership as expelled included Lagman; Arturo Tabara, head of the Visayas commission; Romulo Kintanar, former chief of the New People's Army; and Ricardo Reyes, former CPP secretary general. A war of words among these individuals ensued and lasts even to this day.

The groups that bolted the CPP in 1993 were mainly the Lagman faction and the Tabara faction in the Western Visayas. There were other smaller factions, such as the one headed by Ike delos Reyes in the Moro area of Central Mindanao, but these groups tended to gravitate around the main ones. Another faction surfaced in Central Luzon in 1997.

The CPP said Lagman could swagger because he was able to gather some trade unions under the BMP "and co-opt some organizations in urban poor communities."

Lagman and Tabara, meanwhile, tried to hold common activities in the second half of 1993. But the formation of a common political party could not get beyond idle talk, said a CPP leader. An attempt to form "a national coordinating body" in late 1993 failed because Lagman and Tabara wanted all the other factions to join them. In early 1994, the breakaway groups began to go their separate ways.

Lagman and Tabara continued to look for common grounds and entered into an alliance. Consequently, the Tabara faction adopted Sanlakas and formed its chapters in Cebu, Negros and Panay. Tabara's Revolutionary Proletarian Army (RPA) and Lagman's ABB were later merged. The breakaway group from the Moro area also adopted Sanlakas and the RPA.

The Revolutionary Workers Party (RWP), which Tabara launched in the Visayas, was supposed to be formed in Metro Manila with Lagman. But the plan was snuffed out by the breakup of the Tabara-Lagman alliance.

"Too smug about the strength of his faction and his control over it, Lagman was unaware that he stood on shifting sand. Too occpied with dealing with politicians and capitalists, he found out too late that even some of his trusted lieutenants had abandoned him," an article in the NDF website says.

One of those who deserted Lagman was Nilo dela Cruz, the alleged ABB head. Dela Cruz initiated the formation of Alab Katipunan in 1998. The other blocs that parted ways with Lagman, however, did not join Alab Katipunan.

Lagman suffered another blow when Tabara sided with Dela Cruz. Consequently, the Tabara faction reportedly disenfranchised Sanlakas in the Visayas. Some elements, however, remained with Lagman's Sanlakas after the Tabara faction split in 1998. Tabara and Dela Cruz retained the RPA-ABB alliance.

As if these were not enough, Lagman's "theoretician," Sonny Melencio, and a youth group (the smallest faction of Kamalayan) also abandoned him in 1998. Melencio set up the Socialist League. Later, the Socialist League initiated the formation of the Socialist Party of Labor. The SPL included the Rebolusyonaryong Partido ng Proletaryo (RPP, a faction of the Partido Komunista ng Pilipinas), a faction of the Cordillera People's Liberation Army (now a government paramilitary group) and a faction of Partido Demokratiko Sosyalista ng Pilipinas (PDSP).

"These splits and realignments greatly weakened the Lagman faction," said the NDF article. "He can no longer mobilize a sizable number of workers and urban poor residents. Neither can he make any more armed threat to politicians and capitalists," it added.

Reinventing the labor movement

But Lagman's magic continued. When he formed the Brotherhood of Union Presidents (BUP), which boasts of a membership of 1,000 union presidents, observers said the labor leader, "disrupted the established structure of top federations." He was also described as having envisioned "the rebirth of a militant trade union movement in the country."

To prove his point, Lagman and his BMP helped organize the 120,000-strong 1996 May Day demonstration in Metro Manila, the largest under the administration of then President Fidel V. Ramos. The rally was later followed by a strike demanding tax reforms, in which 160,000 workers participated.

The mobilization was sponsored by the BMP, the Fraternity of Union Presidents of the Philippines (KPUP) and the National Confederation of Labor (NCL), all influenced by Lagman.

While the NCL is a mass-based national trade union center, the KPUP claims to be a grassroots organization of 747 local union presidents. The BMP traces its origins to the split within the Kilusang Mayo Uno (KMU), when the entire regional chapter in Metro Manila split away in 1993. This occured during the same time when the major split took place in the CPP.

In an interview with the progressive Green Left Weekly magazine, Lagman said he was confident that the labor movement in the country is "on the upswing." He said the revolutionary movement has been mustering its "second wind" with a strong working class character.

Explaining what he believed where the changes in "organizational structures of the working class movement," Lagman said Filipino workers are still greatly handicapped in their struggle for their rights and welfare.

More than 85 percent of the labor force in the country is still unorganized. Unionized labor is deeply fragmented while most federations remain under the stranglehold of "mendicant and mediocre leaders," Lagman explained. He added that the level of unionism has stagnated at the factory level. "It cannot seem to advance to organizing struggles along industrial lines."

He said it was the single most difficult objective limitation of the labor movement.

Lagman hit even the so-called progressive wing of the workers movement that, he said, failed to upgrade the backwardness of trade unionism.

"After decades of labor organizing, it failed as a motive force in the unionization and the unification of labor. It pays more attention to its factional rivalry with conservative trade union centers while paying lip service to trade union unity, which is pivotal in upgrading the labor movement. It relies excessively and almost exclusively on militant collective struggles, ignoring the objective limitations arising from the backward developmentof trade unionism," he said.

Lagman wished that the emergence of groups like theKPUP, NCL, BMP and later the Partido ng Manggagawa (PM) would become the start of an "all-out effort of a new breed of labor leaders and organizations whose aim is to reinvent the labor movement and radically change the structures and complexion of trade unionism in this era of imperialist, neo-liberal globalization."

Lagman wanted to form a "revolutionary socialist, legal mass organizations" which would assume a pivotal role in advancing the "class struggle and the general democratic movement."

With BMP in mind, Lagman said the center should distinguish itself, as a mass organization, from a political party in assuming a vanguard role in the socialist and democratic struggles.

He said the BMP considers the advancement of the democratic struggle its most immediate political task in the struggle for socialism. However, Lagman also believes that in advancing what he called the people's democratic movement, "the motive and decisive force is the working class movement." He emphasized the necessity of the concentration of forces in organizing the working class.

Lagman said that for the working class to assume a leading role in the democratic struggle of the people, "they must view this struggle as a necessary condition for socialism. They must understand the struggle for democracy from a socialist perspective, and therefore, the necessity of socialist awakening of the mass of workers.

He pinpointed to specific projects that his group has undertaken - the workers' school, workers' magazine and workers' radio - which he said primarily serve political consolidation. He also dreamt of a workers' law firm whose aim is to upgrade the legal flank of the trade union movement and a workers development bank that would become a major effort in undertaking the economic struggle.

Onward with the dream

Filemon "Popoy" Lagman died dreaming. He was a few days away from fulfilling one of his most treasured wishes - the establishment of the Partido ng Manggagawa, the workers very own political party that is preparing to participate in the coming mid-term elections.

Sanlakas Rep. Renato Magtubo believed Ka Popoy did not die in vain.

"We will make sure that his very last project - the Partido ng Manggagawa - will be a success," he said. Ka Popoy firmly believed that union presidents should be the voice and representative of the working class in the halls of Congress. His followers said they will not fail him.

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