The press conference called by the different labor organizations was well attended by the media. The three labor organizations (BMP, NCL and KPUP), together with Sanlakas and urban poor groups announced a "welgang bayan" (people's strike) on 25 November, the date of the official APEC summit, unless Lagman is released. For the unions, it will take the form of mass leave of absences. The BMP will start the simultaneous filing of mass leave of absences this coming Friday, starting with 170 unions.
The labor organizations have set up a daily vigil infront of Gate 1 of Camp Aguinaldo where Popoy is detained. Petition-signing denouncing the arrest and calling for his release has already started in a number of factories.
Philippine President Fidel Ramos said in a statement that Popoy's arrest is not connected with APEC, and that the reason for the arrest was due to a criminal case filed against him in Marikina, a suburb in Metro Manila. (The case referred to is the killing of a Marikina policemen a few years ago. This has been an old case renewed by the government to get him. The only evidence against Lagman are the statements of the two self-confessed gunmen themselves who are known collaborators of the Philippine military. Lagman's lawyers are confident that the case will be thrown out of court, except that the legal technicalities in the Philippine law allow the government to keep him in until the fiscal office decides that there is no prima facie evidence at all. It seems the government's tactic is to sit on the case until the end of the APEC summit.)
Questions were raised by the media casting doubts on Ramos' statement. Radio commentators said that if the case was criminal, Lagman should have been arrested either by the local police or the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI), and not by the intelligence operatives of the military (ISAFP). It was also the spokesman of the Armed Forces of the Philippines who justified Popoy's arrest on the night of November 12.
14 November, Thursday:
Lagman was able to smuggle out from his jail a voice-tape reply to the interview questions slipped in by the media reporters earlier. Lagman announced that he is going on an indefinite hunger strike starting today as a protest to his continued detention. The tape has been aired by local radio and TV stations. Lagman was also complaining of a recurring pain in the nape. In the interview, he called for the unity of the Filipino workers (whatever bloc they belong to) and of all the organizations opposing APEC. He specifically appealed to the ranks of the left to leave aside their differences for the moment in order to unify the fight against APEC.
The Philippine government issued another statement which backtracked from its previous pronouncements. It claimed that Lagman's arrest was conducted by the combined team of the ISAFP and the NBI and that Popoy will be transferred to the custody of the NBI. President Ramos was again on TV tonight saying that the arrest was not, in any way, related to APEC. He gave orders to the health officials to monitor Lagman's hunger strike and to see to it that his health is maintained.
The announcement of the "welgang bayan" has put the government on jitters. Officials of the Department of Labor & Employment (DOLE) said that they have already executed a contingency plan in a strike scenario. The Labor Department will assume the management of some key corporations so it can continue to function and to service necessary APEC functions. Among the list are PLDT (telecommunications), Meralco (electricity), five-star-hotels, Philippine Airlines, EASYCALL (mobile paging system), Coca-Cola (!), plus some more. The government has also declared November 22-26 as non-working holiday.
The Bukluran ng Manggagawang Pilipino (BMP or Solidarity of Filipino Workers), a socialist trade union center in the Philippines, view the arrest of Filemon "Popoy" Lagman as a foolish attempt on the part of the Philippine government to preempt labor resistance against the APEC summit.
It is as stupid as the recent position of the Philippine government to ban Nobel Peace Prize Awardee Jose Ramos Horta from visiting as the country as this would be an "embarassment" to Indonesian dictator Suharto who is attending the summit. It is as brazen as the violent dispersal of the Asia-Pacific East Timor Conference (APCET II) in Kuala Lumpur designed to please the dictator. It is vile as the torture and the continuing detention of Indonesian unionists and activists opposing the dictatorship of Suharto.
All these events -- coupled with the ongoing witchhunt against activists and unionists in South Korea, and the weakening of industrial relations law in Australia and several other countries -- point to a calibrated design to weaken, and crush, the remaining strength of the labor movement in the region. If there is anything that smacks of "cooperation" in the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum, it is none other than the cooperation to break the backbone of the workers' movement.
There will be more repression to come unless the international community, especially the trade unions and workers' organizations around the globe, takes decisive action against the unfolding events.
In the light of all these, the BMP urges you to join us in the following protest actions:
1. Send letters or messages denouncing the arrest of Lagman and calling for his immediate release. Also denounce the continuing atrocities committed by the repressive governments of the Philippines, Indonesia, and Malaysia against the peaceful protests of the peoples in the region. You can send your messages to the Philippine embassies or consulates in your country or directly to President Fidel Ramos, Malacanang Palace, Philippines.
2. Organize protest activities in your own country (could be timed on 25 November, the day of the official APEC summit) as a signal of peoples' solidarity and cooperation in the region, as opposed to the spirit of labor competition being fostered by such institutions as APEC.
3. Organize delegations of your unions and your organizations to the counter-APEC conference in Manila to continue the building of a regional/international network against neoliberalism and for humanity.
For more information, please contact the following addresses:
BMP Address in the Philippines:
Bukluran ng Manggagawang Pilipino (BMP)
4th Floor, Calubad Bldg.
263 Samson Road
Kalookan City, Philippines
Ph. (63) (2) 365-4820
Contact Address in Sydney, Australia:
International Officer, BMP
23 Abercrombie St., Chippendale
NSW 2007, Australia
Ph. (02) 9690-1230