It happens from time to time that the promise of a life is fulfilled in death.

Let it be so with Evelio B. Javier. Born in Antique Province in the Philippines on Oct. 31, 1942, he was murdered there scant days ago -- brutally, callously and deliberately gunned down. It was a mindless murder. His assassins could not have calculated the power of the force that they would thereby set in motion. Some day, somehow, it will overwhelm them.

I know this because I knew Evelio Javier. I know the qualities that made him admired and loved and that will now make him a legend.

We met in June of 1981. He had just received a master's degree from the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard. He was looking for a job. Listening to him talk about his 10 years of service as governor of Antique Province -- elected in 1971 at the age of 29, he became the youngest governor in the Philippines -- I was as much impressed by the way he spoke as by what he said.

His description of the upland development program he started and his pride in its support by the U.S. Agency for International Development and the Ford Foundation were expressed with modesty, charm and humor. He had faith in people and faith in the future; he had faith in his own ability to make a difference. His genuineness was unmistakable. During the next several days I was moved to write or telephone a dozen people on his behalf.

After the assassination of Benigno Aquino, Evi Javier decided that he must go back to the Philippines and join the forces of democracy. Talking to him shortly before he left, I could sense his exhilaration. His eyes shone. He embraced the task ahead with joy and courage. Going back would be better than trying to help from a distance. Here was a cause worthy of total dedication. For him it went without saying that it was worth giving his life for. He exuded the kind of gallantry that I associate with Lee's Lieutenants and with Winston Churchill's generation of British subalterns. I had known officers like that in Normandy.

He did go back. He joined a law firm. He made plans to start a counterpart of the Kennedy School in the Philippines. He ran for parliament in Antique Province, lost narrowly, and brought proceedings in the Supreme Court of the Philippines charging fraud in the vote count. Seven of his supporters were ambushed and killed on election eve, and he filed multiple murder charges against his opponent, Arturo Pacificador. The charges were still pending when he himself was killed.

The last time I saw Evi was in April, 1985. He had come to the United States with Sen. Eva Kalaw of Manila, the president of the Liberal Party. Evi was her deputy. He was also chairman of the party's platform committee. He was full of his plans to hold meetings on the platform in all parts of the Philippines. It would, he told me, be "a platform that we can truly call the people's platform."

At the close of a speech in Manila a month earlier he had said:

"Let politics then be the concern not only of the politicians but also of the citizens. Let us no longer leave politics to the corrupt and the abusive.

"My hope is that out of this partnership will merge leaders of the country who, like Cincinnatus and Garibaldi, after leading the call of their country, shall not be tempted to perpetuate themselves in power. My hope is that we shall see more leaders who shall not be afraid to go back to the farm, plow the land and milk the goats again. Then more and more citizens can take their turns at the reigns of political leadership.

"My friends, our democratic processes and institutions, our liberties have long been hanging in peril. And time is running out on us if we are still to save whatever is left of our liberties."

Evelio Javier is now a symbol of the things he stood for. A hero in his lifetime, he is now a martyr. His death will inspire with his vision countless countrymen who might otherwise never have heard his name. They will remember his decency, honesty, compassion and love of liberty. The directed energy and tenacity that were so much a part of him have not died, and they will not. His assassins have given him immortality.