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Alex Boncayao Brigade (ABB)

Alex Boncayao Brigade (ABB)

ALTERNATE NAME: Revolutionary Proletarian Army-Alex Boncayao Brigade (RPA-ABB)

LEADERS: Felimon Lagman; Nilo de la Cruz

YEAR ESTABLISHED OR BECAME ACTIVE: 1984

ESTIMATED SIZE: 500 members

USUAL AREA OF OPERATION: The Philippines, particularly the islands of Luzon, Negros, and the Visayas

U.S. TERRORIST EXCLUSION LIST DESIGNEE: The U.S. Department of State declared the ABB as a terrorist organization on December 11, 2001

OVERVIEW

The Alex Boncayao Brigade (ABB), which was formed in 1984, began as an outgrowth of an extremist group called the New People's Army (NPA). The New People's Army is the armed faction of the Communist Party of the Philippines' Marxist-Leninist Group; it had its inception in 1969. The ABB has been closely aligned with the Revolutionary Proletarian Army (RPA) of the Philippines, and a political group called the Filipino Workers Party.

The Alex Boncayao Brigade operates from the Philippines, and the largest membership concentrations are located on the islands of Luzon, Negros, and the Visayas. The United States added the ABB to its Terrorist Exclusion list in December of 2001.

HISTORY

The Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP), which was started by a Filipino revolutionary theorist named Jose Maria Sison during the 1960s, was the parent organization from which the New People's Army and the Alex Boncayao Brigade evolved. The New People's Army, the militarist segment of the Communist Party of the Philippines Marxist-Leninist Group, became progressively more powerful and, by the early 1980s, had set up a rival government situated in the southern islands of the Philippines.

The philosophy of the New People's Army, the immediate predecessor of the Alex Boncayao Brigade, was that the most effective means of fomenting, and then winning, a revolution was through the united efforts of peasants and workers, expressed through the use of jungle-based guerilla warfare. This modus operandi was in keeping with the Marxist-Leninist ideals of worker-peasant alliances, and was the strategy that was in place from the inception of the New People's Army in 1969 until a faction of the NPA called the Manila-Rizal Committee expressed progressively stronger opposition to these tactics during the early part of the 1980s. The Manila-Rizal Committee, led by Felimon Lagman, espoused the belief that urban terrorism was the most appropriate means to the achievement of the group's goals.

In 1984, Felimon Popoy Lagman reorganized the Manila-Rizal Committee, which he then named The Alex Boncayao Brigade after a comrade who had been murdered in the 1970s. The ABB's dedicated aim was to take its terrorist tactics to the streets of the cities of the Philippines, declaring urban war against capitalism and the government. Although there was escalating friction between the leadership of the ABB, the New People's Army, and that of the Communist Party of the Philippines, Lagman effectively maintained an uneasy alliance with them throughout the 1980s.

At the start of the 1990s, the central structure of the CPP began to implode in the face of intense internal disagreement regarding strategic approach. This was catalyzed by disagreement over the ABB's very high-profile use of assassination as a means of achieving its political aims. As a result, Sison and his inner circle of followers repeatedly attempted to eliminate the most incendiary and extremist members of the CPP. Ultimately, this led to an unbreechable rift between Lagman's ABB and the New People's Army in 1993. After that point, the CPP markedly diminished in political power.

Through the early and middle portion of the 1990s, the ABB barely managed to survive as a result of internal struggles brought about both by government infiltration and its own systemic fragmentation. By the later 1990s, Lagman had lost considerable control of the ABB; he had also been arrested more than once for his political and terrorist activities. In 1997, Nilo de la Cruz, commander of a rival faction of the ABB, wrested control of the Alex Boncayao Brigade from Lagman.

De la Cruz reconstituted the faltering ABB, and consolidated it with the Revolutionary Proletarian Army of Arturo Tabara. Lagman's followers gradually either joined de la Cruz or drifted into other extremist groups. Lagman turned away from revolutionary warfare and became a labor union organizer. In 2000, Lagman issued a public statement in which he denigrated de la Cruz's tactics as being too conciliatory, and expressed his continuing support of the CPP. He went on to state that he believed that the ABB had been "hijacked" by Nilo de la Cruz. A single gunman assassinated Lagman two months later; this was deemed to be an act of reprisal for his negative statements about de la Cruz and the ABB.

Shortly after it was organized in 1984, the ABB chose Manila as its first base of extremist operations. In expression of Lagman's conviction that urban warfare constituted the shortest route to a successful revolution, the ABB shifted from rural and jungle-style guerilla tactics and began to utilize political assassinations along with terrorist acts in order to make its ideological presence known. The initial focus of ABB attention was on police officers, which is credited with the murder of nearly 200 of them by 1993. The ABB signature murder included hanging a list of purported transgressions around the necks of the slain police officers. Early in this series of murders (1984), the ABB claimed responsibility for the assassination of the senior police general Tomas Karingal. They also reported murdering U.S. Army Colonel James Rowe, a counterinsurgency operations advisor to the Philippine Army, in 1989.

The ABB acquires most of its funding through extortion and intimidation of wealthy residents and local business owners. This serves a dual purpose: it increases the available financial resources, and creates an atmosphere of anxiety and fear among the populace. The ABB has referred to these payments as "revolutionary taxes" or "protection payments." Those who refuse either to pay or to be intimidated are beaten or killed and publicly labeled "antiworker." There have also been a small number of ransom-based kidnappings attributed to the Alex Boncayao Brigade.

PHILOSOPHY AND TACTICS

At the outset, the goal of the Alex Boncayao Brigade was revolution, and ultimately overthrow of the populist government. The ideological roots of the ABB lay in the political dogma of the CPP-ML, and the original philosophy was to unite the working class and the peasantry in an uprising that would overthrow the government and establish Marxist-Leninist Communist rule. The early tactics for achieving those aims lay in the use of guerilla-style jungle combat. When the ABB, under the leadership of Felimon Lagman, separated from the NPA, the tactics began to change, moving from the rural and primitive areas to the cities and commercial areas. As is quite common among terrorists and extremist groups, Lagman's ABB utilized visible fear-evoking tactics: they openly assassinated police officers, military, and government personnel, and publicly claimed responsibility for their actions. They utilized kidnapping, threats, intimidation, and violence as means of ensuring financial viability.

In the late 1990s, when Lagman was ousted and Nilo de la Cruz assumed leadership of the group and united it with the RPA, the philosophy and tactics of the Alex Boncayao Brigade (eventually called the RPA-ABB) again shifted, and moved more into alignment with the earlier philosophical goals of revolution and uniting of the peasants with the working class population in an effort to achieve common aims. Much of the RPA-ABB activity remained concentrated in urban areas, but the focus changed to something akin to a terrorist version of public protest: offices and government agency buildings were symbolically attacked and damaged in protest of unfair conditions, such as rising gasoline or oil prices, for workers and the common citizenry.

At the beginning of the twenty-first century, the RPA-ABB, together with its political ally, the Rebolusyonaryong Partido ng Manggagawa-Pilipinas (RPM-P) publicly announced its intention to achieve peace with the Philippine government, headed by President Joseph Estrada. Nilo de la Cruz, together with the leader of the RPA, Arturo Tabara, engaged in peaceful negotiations with both the President and the National Commander Carapali Lualhati. The result of those discussions was a December 2000 truce with the Philippine military.

The truce did not prevent the group from continued political activism/terrorist acts aimed at prevention of Philippine entry into western-style globalization, however. During the year 2000, the ABB claimed responsibility for attacks on the Manila/Makati offices of Citibank, Shell Oil, Petron, and the U.S. Department of Energy. The ongoing use of the terrorist tactics of bombings and attacks on public buildings was the catalyst for the ABB's inclusion in the U.S. Department of State Terrorist Exclusion List in 2001.

OTHER PERSPECTIVES

Johnna Villaviray, a senior reporter for the Manila Times, reported on December 26, 2003, that Nilo de la Cruz had shifted from terrorist activities as leader of the ABB to organizing the labor forces of the Philippines into trade unions. Villaviray reported that de la Cruz had turned his political energies toward the creation of a "multisectoral grassroots political party," the goal of which is to permit inclusion of labor, peasant, and youth leaders as party-list members of Congress, which Villaviray reported had historically been dominated by traditional politicians, powerful landlords, and businessmen.

LEADERSHIP

FELIMON LAGMAN

Felimon (Popoy) Lagman was an early leader of the ABB, having been a prominent member of the New People's Army in the 1980s. Felimon Lagman was the leader of an NPA faction called the Manila-Rizal Committee, which evolved into the urban terrorist organization that came to be known as the Alex Boncayao Brigade. The ABB broke away from other extremist factions in 1991, with Lagman at the epicenter of leadership.

NILO DE LA CRUZ

By the late 1990s, Lagman lost control of the ABB to Nilo de la Cruz. When de la Cruz gained control of the Alex Boncayao Brigade in the late 1990s, he sought to merge it with another extremist organization, the Revolutionary Proletarian Army. Currently, the group is known as the Revolutionary Proletarian Army-Alex Boncayao Brigade.

On February 6, 2004, the Centers for Defense Information reported that the ABB could either have become so fragmented and disenfranchised as to be limited to street gang-type activity, or far more likely, it could have reinvented itself as a paramilitary group that may be functioning in the service of the Philippine government.

SUMMARY

The Alex Boncayao Brigade began in 1984 as a paramilitary extremist faction of the Communist Party of the Philippines Marxist-Leninist Group. The activities of the ABB were aimed at revolution and overthrow of the current government, in service of the Communist Party. The early ABB utilized techniques of jungle-style guerilla warfare, designed, in Leninist fashion, to unite the peasantry with the working classes against the perceived common enemy of the proletariat government. Under the leadership of Felimon Lagman, the Alex Boncayao Brigade separated from the New People's Army and markedly changed activity level and style, moving from rural guerilla tactics to urban terrorism, using highly visible and inflammatory techniques of assassination, kidnapping, and extortion, aimed at creating a climate of fear and intimidation as means to the same political ends (revolution and overthrow of the government). When Nilo de la Cruz replaced Lagman, the ABB dramatically altered trajectory, and its tactics changed from street-level urban warfare to something akin to political activist terrorism, aimed more at anti-globalization and the broadening of the people's governmental voice. Although the RPA-ABB is categorized by the United States as a terrorist group, it appears to be functioning almost as a Philippine government paramilitary group currently, and any violent activity has been reported to consist primarily of factional in-fighting.

KEY EVENTS

1998:
Three days after oil price increases, a bomb exploded at the Petron Oil Corporation Offices in Makati. The ABB claimed responsibility. There were no reported injuries or fatalities.
1999:
Ten members of the ABB fired a grenade at the Pilipinas Shell Petroleum Corporation headquarters in Makati. The ABB claimed responsibility for this act, and stated that it was part of a siege on oil companies that would continue until the government implemented a peace agreement engineered with the ABB. There were no reported injuries or fatalities.
2000:
The Makati offices of Shell and Petron were bombed. The office of the Department of Energy in Fort Bonifacio in Makati was attacked with automatic weapons and a rocket-launched grenade. The ABB claimed responsibility for all of these events, and stated that they were in response to impending increases in gasoline prices. There were no reported injuries or fatalities.

SOURCES

Web sites

Center for Defense Information. "In the Spotlight: Alex Boncayao Brigade (ABB)." 〈http://www.cdi.org/friendlyversion/printversion.cfm?documentID=2052&from_page=../program/document.cfm〉 (accessed September 15, 2005).

MIPT Terrorism Knowledge Base. "Alex Boncayao Brigade (ABB)." 〈http://www.tkb.org/Group.jsp?groupID=3011〉 (accessed September 15, 2005).

The Manila Times Internet Edition SPECIAL REPORT. "Struggle Continues for Rebels." 〈http://www.manilatimes.net/others/special/2003/dec/26/20031226spe1.html〉 (accessed September 15, 2005).

GlobalSecurity.org. "Alex Boncayao Brigade (ABB)." 〈http://www.globalsecurity.org/military/world/para/abb.htm〉 (accessed September 15, 2005).

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