MANILA — Gunmen ambushed the Philippines' best-known leftist leader Saturday night, killing him less than an hour after he had publicly called for huge street protests Monday against growing military influence in President Corazon Aquino's 18-month-old government.
Leandro Alejandro, 27, was killed instantly and his driver and two colleagues were seriously wounded when gunmen inside a van blocked their car and opened fire with automatic weapons just a few feet from the suburban Quezon City headquarters of Alejandro's activist group, Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (New Nationalist Alliance), known as Bayan.
The slaying, the latest in a wave of gangland-style murders that include last month's assassination of one of Aquino's top Cabinet aides, touched off speculation by radio commentators and political activists that it would result in the declaration of a national state of emergency.
The killing deepened the political crisis that has plagued Aquino since an Aug. 28 military uprising paralyzed her government and polarized the military.
Military authorities, who 10 days ago announced plans to arrest Alejandro during one of his many street protests in Manila, said they had no clues to the identity of his killers. They speculated that it was the work of a right-wing civilian death squad.
Leftists Blame Government
Leftist leaders, however, immediately blamed the Aquino government, and Alejandro's widow, Lydia, said she holds the 54-year-old president personally responsible.
"We hold the Aquino regime responsible for this heinous crime," Alejandro's organization declared in a statement, which also sought to link the killing to the recent attempted coup by renegade rightist military officers under Col. Gregorio (Gringo) Honasan, who is now a fugitive. Honasan was one of the leaders of the successful 1986 revolt against former President Ferdinand E. Marcos that brought Aquino to power.
"Lean's murderers could only have been those who hold it in their interest to crush the resurgent nationalist and democratic mass movement and stem growing protest (against) worsening social conditions," the statement added.
Speaking tearfully at the hospital where her husband's body lay in the morgue, Alejandro's widow said, "I think the events of the last few weeks have made it increasingly clear that there is no difference between the military loyal to the old (Marcos) regime and the military that is loyal to Cory Aquino. I hold her, first of all, responsible for this."
Government Issues Statement
Aquino's press secretary, Teodoro Benigno, read a government statement calling the killing "a very tragic travesty of law and order, specially at a time when President Aquino is calling upon everyone to join hands."
Alejandro angered the Aquino family last May when he ran for Congress against Aquino's sister-in-law, Tessie Aquino Oreta. Oreta had publicly labeled Alejandro, a former student activist and the most visible public leader of Manila's anti-government street demonstrations, a Communist.
Saturday night, Alejandro's widow said, "They'll never call him a Communist again."
Loretta Rosales, co-leader of Alejandro's organization, called the killing "a resurgence of fascist rule," a reference to Marcos' declaration of martial law Sept. 21, 1972. The September date has become a traditional day of street protest against perceived rightist tendencies in the government.
Announced Monday Protests
Shortly before he was killed, Alejandro held a press conference to announce Monday's planned series of street protests against what many Filipino political analysts see as a shift to the political right by Aquino in the aftermath of the Aug. 28 uprising.
In recent days, Alejandro had telephoned several foreign journalists to voice concern about his personal safety and report rumors that Aquino was poised to suspend the right of habeas corpus and eventually declare a state of national emergency.
Aquino Moved Right
On the surface at least, Aquino has moved her moderate government to the right of center in recent weeks.
To try to solve the political crisis touched off by the revolt, Aquino satisfied several longstanding military demands, among them the dismissal of her executive secretary, Joker Arroyo, a lifelong human rights lawyer who represented many jailed leaders of the Communist Party of the Philippines and its armed insurgent wing, the New People's Army.
After Vice President Salvador Laurel broke all political ties with the president last week, saying he could no longer support her "indecisive approach" to ending the country's Communist insurgency, Aquino went on television to stress that she has taken a hard line against the Communists, and she repeated a recent order calling for "a string of military victories."
Plan to Go Underground
Most of Alejandro's associates and friends in what the government considers "legal leftist organizations" who gathered at the hospital after Saturday night's killing said they were planning to go "underground," a Filipino expression that means either joining the Communist Party or the New People's Army.
The torture killing last November of Rolando Olalia, who headed the May First Movement, a leftist labor coalition, remains unsolved, as does last month's ambush slaying of Aquino's local governments secretary, Jaime Ferrer.