MANILA, JUNE 9 -- Bernabe Buscayno, a former communist guerrilla chief who had emerged as a prominent left-wing politician and ran unsuccessfully for the senate last month, was shot and slightly wounded in an ambush in a Manila suburb late last night.
A television cameraman was killed and three of Buscayno's aides wounded in the attack, which occurred as Buscayno -- widely known by the nom de guerre "Commander Dante" from his years as leader of the outlawed insurgents -- was leaving a television studio after appearing on a talk show.
Witnesses said several gunmen wearing fatigues and riding in a jeep and two motorcycles fired on Buscayno's car with pistols and automatic weapons.
Buscayno was grazed in the back by a bullet, and his three aides were said to be in critical condition. The cameraman reportedly was riding with the former rebel leader as they left the television studio.
The attack on Buscayno, who is among the best-known leftist political figures came one day after the communist New People's Army (NPA) that he once led claimed responsibility for a spate of recent assassinations of top-ranking law enforcement officials in metropolitan Manila.
More than a dozen lawmen have been shot in Manila in recent days by communist hit squads, known as "sparrows." Almost 50 Manila police officers, soldiers, and law enforcement officials have been assassinated this year.
On Sunday, a spokesman for the NPA's Alex Boncayao Brigade said the group had committed six of the recent killings and that the victims had been "punished" for corruption or other "crimes" against the people.
The spokesman also issued a "hit list" of other police officers who the group alleged were corrupt, according to some Manila newspaper reports today.
The recent "sparrow" killings have heightened fears that the 18-year, largely rural-based insurgency was spreading to the cities and has raised the specter of a possible violent anticommunist backlash by right-wing vigilante groups.
"If the NPA is behind the killings, the insurgents are making it easier for the government, particularly the military, to organize vigilantes in the metro area as a measure of self-defense," the Manila Chronicle warned today in an editorial.
The attack on Buscayno raised speculation that right-wing elements had staged it in retaliation for the string of police killings. Leftist leaders, in a hastily called news conference, blamed the military.
Last November, another prominent left-wing activist, labor union leader Rolando Olalia, was kidnaped and brutally murdered amid several attempts by right-wing elements in the military to destabilize President Corazon Aquino's government.
Buscayno was arrested in 1976 and spent 10 years in prison until last March, when Aquino, who in February overthrew Marcos in a popularly backed military revolt, released all political prisoners held under Marcos.
Buscayno then formed a new left-wing party that has been branded by many senior military officials as a front for the communists. His move toward political moderation has also been sharply criticized by his former colleagues in the insurgency.