‘Baguhin ang Labor Code Hindi ang Konstitusyon’ Comrades remember Ka Popoy Lagman amid ‘tumultuous’ time

Filemon “Ka Popoy” Lagman was assassinated inside the University of the Philippines Diliman campus 23 years ago on February 6.

Nobody claimed responsibility for his murder, but his comrades in the labor movement do not rule out state involvement by many means, as the revolutionary labor leader played a key role in mass mobilizations during important social issues of his time, including charter change.

Partido Manggagawa (PM) Chair Renato Magtubo, an Ilonggo who hails from Bacolod, a union president, a partylist representative then, remembers Ka Popoy as someone who adapts to the changing political landscape without losing his revolutionary commitment.

He cited as an example that Lagman popularized the slogan ‘Rebolusyon Hindi Eleksyon’ in anticipation of the transition of power from Cory Aquino to Fidel Ramos during the 1992 elections, as well as the ‘Resign All’ call during the anti-Erap struggle, as he deemed that a Gloria Arroyo takeover of power won’t change anything, which proved prescient.

At the height of Edsa Dos people power, Lagman’s group pushed for the idea of having a caretaker government to be headed then by Chief Justice Hilario Davide, while other left groups supported Gloria Arroyo.

“Hindi katanggap-tanggap na ang panibagong people power ay magbunga lang ng isang Gloria. Dahil para lang nating pinalitan ang bigote ni Erap ng nunal ni Gloria,” Magtubo recalled Ka Popoy saying these words in disgust over the dire prospect of a simple regime change instead of the possibility of system change.

On February 6, 2001, he was shot dead while he was in the thick of preparations for the launching of Partido Manggagawa (PM). PM was founded by working class leaders on February 12, 2001, the same day Ka Popoy was laid to rest through a massive funeral march from UP to Loyola Memorial Park in Marikina.

“Kung nabubuhay lang si Ka Popoy ngayon, malamang ibabalik niya ulit ang kanyang naunang paninindigan noon laban sa charter change na ‘Baguhin ang Labor Code, Hindi ang Konstitusyon,’” explained Mario Andon, PM Iloilo spokesperson. At that time, labor groups were pushing for ‘CBA ng Uri’ as they find in the Labor Code many provisions that prohibit the free exercise of labor rights, including the freedom to organize and to strike as provided under the Constitution.

Today PM pursues a similar line, “Chicha hindi Chacha”, as it finds the motives behind the new push for charter change remain to be the same—dynastic lust for power and service to foreign capital—that runs counter to workers’ most urgent concerns on high prices, low wages, unemployment, and other demands for economic relief.

Members of PM vowed to continue seeking justice for Ka Popoy while pursuing what they believe is his legacy as a working-class hero—the struggle for the emancipation of the working class.

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