Words by Robert Roy Gallardo
35 years after the Mendiola Massacre, peasants continue to commemorate the lives of the 13 farmers who were killed, amplifying calls for justice that remains elusive for the victims.
Last January 22, locals of Southern Tagalog formed a unity caravan in Cavite to remember the grim massacre in Mendiola, and to amplify the calls for the release of political prisoners.
“Ang mga pangunahing panawagan: hustisya para sa mga biktima ng Mendiola Massacre, pagpapalaya sa mga bilanggong pulitikal, at saka yung pagpapatigil ng demolisyon at paghaharas sa mga kapatid natin,” shared Ka Orly Marcellana, regional coordinator of Tanggol Magsasaka Timog Katagalugan (TM-TK).
[“Our primary calls: justice for the victims of Mendiola Massacre, for the release of political prisoners, and for an end to the demolition and harassment of our fellow Filipinos.”]
The unity caravan was joined by TM-TK, Katipunan ng mga Samahang Magbubukid sa Timog Katagalugan (KASAMA-TK), Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (BAYAN) Cavite, Save Patungan Now Movement, and other progressive groups.
They also condemned the illegal demolition in Brgy. Patungan, Maragondon, Cavite, and the detention of the area’s residents, who are primarily farmers and fisherfolks (READ: Humigit-kumulang 1200 residente, apektado ng demolisyon sa Brgy. Patungan, Maragondon, Cavite).
Over 1000 men, including state forces and a private security group, were sent by Virata-Sy in the violent demolition to convert the 602-hectare fishing village into an exclusive beach resort. According to the Save Patungan Now Movement, if the conversion succeeds, over 600 peasant families will be displaced and will lose their livelihoods.
“Dalawang beses na nag-attempt ang demolition team sa Cavite pero ‘di sila nagtagumpay. Eh ‘di may dalawang yugto ng barikada na ikinasa yung mga residente sa lugar at pinaulanan nila ng bato,” Marcellana narrated.
[The demolition team in Cavite attempted twice but they did not succeed. There were two instances that the residents formed barricades and they threw stones at the demolition team.”]
Six residents were detained on the day of the demolition: Neslie Pantar, Rizza Sia, Freddie Bascal, Ace Amul, Eric Dominado, and Joy Mendoza. Cases of direct assault were filed against them.
Last January 21, five of the detained residents were able to post bail worth P18,000 each, while Amul was released by January 26 after his hospital arrest due to COVID-19.
State forces claim that policemen sustained injuries after residents threw rocks at the demolition team. However, there were also residents who sustained wounds from “warning shots” fired by the policemen and guards.
As the attack against peasants continues even decades after the Mendiola Massacre, progressive groups continue to amplify the calls against peasant and laborer oppression.
“Sa lalawigan ng Cavite, marami mga kaso sa lupa at paghaharas, mga bantang pagpapalayas. Bantang reclamation sa bayan ng Bacoor,” Marcellana reported.
[“In the province of Cavite, there are many land-related cases of harassment and threats of eviction. In Bacoor, there are threats of reclamation.”]
For years, Bacoor residents have been vocal over the displacement of urban poor residents and fisherfolks, only for the local government to make way for reclamation and development projects in the city (READ: Fisherfolk, residents protest potential loss of livelihood; DENR neglects calls to junk demolition move).
Meanwhile, despite the peaceful unity caravan in Cavite, state forces barred the entry of the protesters and reportedly threatened them when they reached Maragondon.
“Hinarang at binigyan kami ng warning ng pulis sa bayan ng Maragondon na kung ‘di ihihinto ang mobilization ay may masamang mangyayari,” shared Marcellana.
[“We were blocked and warned by police in Maragondon and said that if the mobilization will not be halted, something bad will happen.”]
Democratic demands met by bullets
The infamous massacre transpired on January 22, 1987, when an estimated 15,000 farmers and supporters marched to Mendiola to conduct a peaceful mobilization. They were led by Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP), a national progressive organization of farmers advancing for equal distribution of land, livable wages, and genuine agrarian reform.
The peasants hoped to hold a dialogue with former president and Cojuangco landowner Corazon Aquino to discuss the issues and demands of Filipino peasants.
As protesters marched from Liwasang Bonifacio to Mendiola Street, state forces barricaded the peaceful mobilization. Tension erupted as anti-riot forces resorted to excessive force, firing gunshots on the protesters.
The bloody dispersal that took 13 lives of farmers and wounded over 50 protesters came to be known as the Mendiola Massacre.
To this day, no one is held accountable for the crime. Moreover, the bloodshed continues well after the massacre. The persistence of injustice continues to bring peasants, laborers, and progressives to annually commemorate the infamous event.
Farmers continue to call for genuine agrarian reform, which would institutionalize the free distribution of land to rural poor farmers, or those who are under tenancy to farm land through legislation.
(RELATED STORY: Plight of the peasants)
Groups also slammed the persistent and baseless red-tagging of the state that endangers the lives of farmers and laborers in the country.
It can be recalled that in late 2021, there was an intensified militarization in Quezon that led to the deaths of two copra farmers, and to the “forced surrender” of 485 coconut farmers who were accused of being members of the New People’s Army (NPA) (READ: 485 coconut farmers from Quezon coerced by state forces to surrender as affiliates of CPP-NPA-NDF; Residents, progressive groups oppose NPA allegations on slain Sampaloc farmers; Intensified Quezon militarization draws fear on residents, relatives of slain farmers).
“Walang sinasanto ang rehimen ni Duterte. Lahat ng mga nanawagan diyan kaagad na inaakusahan na may kaugnayan agad sa CPP-NPA [Communist Party of the Philippines – New People’s Army]”, said Marcellana.
[“Farmers who genuinely forward their rights are immediately accused by the Duterte regime as affiliates of the CPP-NPA.”]
Farmers cry foul as the passing of the Rice Tariffication Law allows the unhampered rice import, which continues to cause the low prices of rice grains grown in the country, which are sold for as low as only P7 per kilo.
This also reflects back to the passing of the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP) under Corazon Aquino’s term. The program only distributed a fraction of the promised 8.6 million hectares of land.
Under CARP, farmer-beneficiaries are required to pay amortization fees to legally own tillable lands. In a 2016 report by former Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) secretary, Virgilio R. de los Reyes, over Php 58 billion was collected from more than 900,000 beneficiaries under CARP and CARP Extension with Reforms (CARPER).
In a report by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), redistribution of land alone is not enough to liberate small-scale farmers from poverty. This was echoed by Tanggol Magsasaka and said that support services must also be provided, along with the promised ownership of land.
To address the loopholes in passed agrarian reform laws, Anakpawis (AP) Partylist authored the Genuine Agrarian Reform Bill (GARB) or House Bill 555. According to AP representative Ariel Casilao, GARB solves loopholes in the existing agrarian reform laws and aims to distribute land to farmers to maximize production capabilities and end tenancy.
The bill includes the removal of amortization fees, protecting beneficiaries from revoking of certificates of land ownership (CLOAs), and establishing a system of passing land rights to family members or within the community.
GARB is still pending in the House of Representatives under the Committee on Agrarian Reform and no bills have been passed in the Senate.
To achieve genuine change, groups call for active dialogue between the state and peasants. The commemoration of the Mendiola Massacre remains as an active call for genuine agrarian reform that addresses the rights of the rural poor and aims to end state-led violence against peasants, farmers, and laborers.
“Patuloy ang panawagan natin at lagi tayong may dialogo sa DAR [Department of Agrarian Reform] at Philippine Coconut Authority [PCA] para ilapag ang ating kahilingan na dapat manatili yung mga magsasaka sa kanilang lupang sinasaka at ipamahagi nang libre yung lupa,” Marcellana added.
[“We continuously call for dialogue with DAR and PCA to forward our demands for the free distribution of land, so that peasants will own and stay in the land that they till.”] [P]
Additional reports by Pierre Ulrich Hubo and Marilou Lorzano
Photo by Pola Rubio