Death of a Maverick

Manila Times editorial, 8 February 2001

The killing of former labor leader Filemon Ka Popoy Lagman, 47, is the first major crime committed under the new administration. The murder adds to the strains undermining the country's political stability. It places new questions on the ability of the Philippine National Police to solve major crimes and give justice to victims and their families. The murder places the Philippines on the world map for the wrong reason.

Mr. Lagman was chair of the militant labor group Bukluran ng Manggagawang Pilipino and leader of the party-list organization Sanlakas at the time of his death. BMP members claimed the murder was politically motivated meant to frighten activist labor groups.

No one claimed authorship for the ambush. Who could have masterminded his death?

Ka Popoy was not in good standing with the mainstream Communist Party of the Philippines. In 1991, he broke away from the Jose Ma. Sison-Luis Jalandoni group and became the leader of the rejectionist group that advocated parliamentary struggle. He criticized Mr. Sison's protracted people's war strategy as being unrealistic and inappropriate for the Philippine setting.

He was not popular among many employers for leading labor strikes and actively standing up for workers' right. A staunch government critic, he probably was on the hate list of many public officials.

His group participated actively in the EDSA II demonstration that ousted Mr. Estrada. He headed the Resign All campaign that called for the resignation of President Estrada and Vice President Arroyo and top government leaders.

Some theorists claimed a faction of the military was unhappy that the former guerilla leader, who surrendered in 1995, literally walked away from charges brought against him by government. He became a labor leader after his release from military custody.

A paper reported that Kilusang Mayo Uno chair Crispin Beltran has suggested that the police look into Mr. Lagman's other activities to establish motive. These included, he said, Lagman's reported tie-up with the presidential task force on organized crime, and the multi-million deals that he reported brokered with the Philippine Air Lines and PEA-Amari administration.

A controversial man, Mr. Lagman made a mark by choosing to turn away from the armed struggle to the parliamentary mainstream through legal yet militant means. He had a vision of uniting all militant trade unions and organizing a labor political party. Part of his dream came true when approximately 200 local unions joined the BMP and later the BMP-led march on EDSA. A representative from Sanlakas sits in the House.

President Arroyo has ordered the police to waste no time running after the brains behind the murder. The police should also give Lagman's family tight security. We challenge newly appointed PNP chief Leandro Mendoza to crack the case as early as possible.