LIFE AFTER REBELLION
Editorial, Philippine Daily Inquirer, Feb. 9, 2001
Who killed Filemon "Popoy" Lagman, chair of the militant labor group, Bukluran ng Manggagawang Pilipino? The usual suspects in political assassinations have come forward to say, "Don't look at me," followed with suggestions for those who want to find the answer to look in the direction of their favorite enemies.
Jose Maria Sison, founding chair of the Communist Party of the Philippines, says one group in the leftist movement was most likely to have carried out Lagman's murder last Tuesday inside the Diliman campus of the University of the Philippines. This is the group Lagman himself was credited for founding: the Alex Boncayao Brigade, which is believed to have pulled off several daring killings of police and military officials right in the urban areas. A faction of the ABB led by Nilo dela Cruz broke away from Lagman allegedly after a bitter dispute over the division of money that Lagman got in connection with the controversial PEA-Amari deal during the Ramos administration. Lagman must have been murdered in revenge by Dela Cruz and his group, according to Sison who is now living in exile in the Netherlands.
Dela Cruz, of course, denies that his group is responsible for the murder and points to the CPP and the New People's Army, which still recognize Sison as their leader, as the most likely culprit. Lagman lead the breakaway from the main body of the revolutionary movement in the mid-1990s when he could not convince the CPP-NPA to shift to urban guerilla warfare from the Maoist strategy of surrounding the cities from the countryside. That split weakened greatly the CPP-NPA, and this could have made Lagman the enemy No. 1 in the eyes of Sison's faction. Dela Cruz pointed out that among the leftist revolutionary groups, only Sison's group has shown the ruthlessness to go after former comrades in arms who went against it. The CPP-NPA is believed to have conducted a bloody purge of its ranks that left dozens of suspected military agents dead in the 1980s.
Police investigators are themselves divided as to who killed Lagman, with some tending to blame leftist groups while others are looking at a right-wing conspiracy to destabilize the new administration of President Macapagal. The chief of the homicide section of the Central Police District, Insp. Rudy Jaraza, was quoted as saying by another newspaper that it was the work of the Sparrow Unit, another name for the ABB. "It's all there," Jaraza said, "the use of a .45-caliber pistol, gunmen on foot, escape using a stolen vehicle, the cool and calculated kill. It is the tradeark of the Sparrow Unit." But the acting chief of the Philippine National Police, Deputy Director General Leandro Mendoza, said that one angle they are pursuing is that the killing was done by a "rightist and counter-revolutionary group" that seeks to destabilize the administration.
The theory advance by Mendoza appears to be the most plausible, especially in the light of a similar incident that happened after the first People Power Revolution in 1986. In November that year, labor leader Rolando Olalia was abducted, tortured and killed. This was followed by the murder of student leader Lean Alejandro, secretary general of the Bagong Alyansang Makabayan. Members of an ultra-rightist group that mounted several attempts to topple the administration of President Aquino were suspected of carrying the killings, but no one was ever arrested for the crimes.
At this point, however, every theory about who killed Lagman belongs to the realm of speculation. But unlike in the Olalia murder, the authorities have witnesses and now even the sketches of the suspects in the Lagman killing. Thus they have fewer excuses for not being able to solve the murder and find the killers.
And the police better act fast to get those killers. An underground group said to be allied with Lagman's BMP, the Partido ng Manggagawang Pilipino, has vowed to "exact justice for his assassination in our own way (and) pursue the killers and the masterminds to the ends of the earth." That could lead to another bloodbath in the streets or in the underground movement, depending on whom the PMP holds responsible for the murder. Of course, the military would like nothing better than to see rebel groups get at each other's throat, but that's assuming that Lagman was killed by his leftist foes.
This is the first sensational crime in the very young life of the Macapagal administration. It cannot afford to bungle the solution of this case. This is an acid test of its capability to deal with crime. More than this, the administration has to prove as it seeks to restart peace talks with various dissident organizations that there is life after rebellion.