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22 Years After Mendiola Massacre: Farmers Still Fighting for Genuine Agrarian Reform

Posted by lenolea on January 24, 2009

Twenty-two years after the Mendiola Massacre that resulted in the death of 13 farmers, Filipino farmers are still fighting for a genuine agrarian reform program.


Teresita Arjona, 50, is the widow of one of the 13 victims and herself a survivor of the Mendiola Massacre.

On January 22, 1987, government security forces opened fire at some 20,000 protesters who demanded a genuine land reform from the Aquino government. After the volley of shots, Danilo Arjona, Teresita’s husband, and 12 others lay dead. Several others were wounded.

Other victims were Adelfa Aribe, Ronilo Domanico, Dante Evangelio, Bernabe Laquindanum, and Roberto Yumul of southern Luzon; Leopoldo Alonzo, Dionisio Bautista, Roberto Caylao, and Sonny Boy Perez of Central Luzon; and Vicente Campomanes, Angelito Gutierrez, and Rodrigo Grampan of northern Manila.

That was 22 years ago, and Teresita marked the anniversary of the massacre that killed her husband by joining the rally to call anew for a genuine agrarian reform program.

Members of Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP) and their affiliates the Katipunan ng mga Samahang Magbubukid sa Timog Katagalugan (Kasama-TK) and Alyansa ng Magbubukid sa Gitnang Luson (AMGL) marched toward Chino Roces (formerly Mendiola) bridge. They were joined by members of organizations under the umbrella group Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan). The protesters were blocked by elements of the Manila Police District at the corner of Recto Ave. and Nicanor Reyes St.

Recalling the incident

While the negotiation was going on, Teresita was standing beside KMP leaders. She told Bulatlat, “Kinakabahan na naman ako. Ganito rin noon, nag-nenego pa lang, nandali na sila.” (I am getting nervous. The same thing happened years ago; the negotiation was still going on when they began shooting at us.) She was referring to the elements of Philippine National Police and Philippine Marines.

She continued, “Nagmamartsa kami [papuntang Mendiola], may bumagsak na mga bote mula sa isang building. Maya-maya, nagpaputok na.” (We were marching when suddenly a bottle was thrown from one of the buildings. After a while, they started firing.)

Teresita said, “Magkahiwalay kami ng asawa ko. Marshal siya.” (I was not marching with my husband then because he was a marshal during the march.)

She said she managed to go home to Liliw, Laguna that same night. For their safety, they were prevented by their colleagues to go back to the site of the massacre. “Noon ko na nalaman nangyari sa asawa ko. Pinuntahan ko siya, nakaburol na sa Mt. Carmel dito sa Quezon City.” (It was then that I learned about what happened to my husband. When I went back for him, there was already a wake for him and the others at the Mt. Carmel church in Quezon City.)

The couple has five children.

To be able to feed her children, Teresita has continued tilling the farm they still do not own.

She said that their family has been working in the farm since 1980. The harvest is divided according to “tersya” or one-third for the farmers and two-third to the landowner. The same arrangement persists to this day.

“Nangangatulong din ako,” said Teresita. (I also do domestic work.)

Justice elusive

Farmers and supporters march toward the direction of Chino Roces (formerly Mendiola) bridge. (Photo by Ronalyn Olea)

Asked what prompted her to join the rally, Teresita said, “Hanggang ngayon, wala pa ring hustisya para sa asawa ko at sa 12 pang biktima.” (Up to now, there is still no justice for her husband and the 12 other vicims.)

No one has been held responsible for the carnage.

Teresita said, “Bulok pa rin ang gobyerno. Palala nang palala ang sitwasyon.” (The government is still rotten. The situation is getting worse.)

Same demand

She continued,“Hindi pa rin naibibigay ang tunay na reporma sa lupa. Iyon din lang naman ang hinihingi namin noon.” (Up to now, there is still no genuine land reform. That was also what we were demanding for then.)

Anakpawis Representative and KMP Chairperson Rafael Mariano, another survivor of the Mendiola massacre, was 30 years old at that time. He said, “Twenty-two years may have gone, but the spirit, lessons and principles being fought for by the peasantry and the people at Mendiola Bridge are very much alive.” “The political and social bases remain thus, the need to further advance the peasantry’s struggle to a higher level.”

Mariano said the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP) failed to dismantle land monopoly.

The Sentro Para sa Tunay na Repormang Agraryo (SENTRA-Center for Genuine Agrarian Reform) said in its study titled Agrarian Trends, “The provision requiring farmers to pay landowners ‘just’ compensation for the land has been one of the primary factors that led to the failure of CARP.”

The same study by SENTRA cited a report by the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) dated September 2007 that reveals that 5, 049 EPs [emancipation patents] and 103, 092 CLOAs [certificate of land ownership awards] were canceled. This involves 204, 579 hectares of land.

The non-government organization also claimed that the DAR’s accomplishment report was even ‘distorted, bloated and highly questionable.’

Speaking at the rally, Imelda Lacandazo, spokesperson of Kasama-TK revealed that in Southern Tagalog, at least 172, 967 hectares of agricultural land has been converted for other purposes due to the loopholes of CARP.

Meanwhile, Bayan Muna Representative Satur Ocampo, criticized the adoption of Joint Resolution No. 19 extending CARP for another six months. The resolution removed the compulsory acquisition of land and opted for voluntary offer to sell and voluntary land transfer schemes as modes of land distribution.

Mariano is pushing for the passage of House Bill 3059 or the Genuine Agrarian Reform Bill (GARB) as an alternative to CARP. The bill provides for free distribution of land to landless farmers.

Repression vs peasantry

Ocampo said repression against peasants persist. He said that under the Arroyo government, farmers became victims of extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearances, ‘legal offensives’ and other rights abuses.

According to KMP, of the 933 victims of extrajudicial killings, 528 were farmers. One hundred nine leaders of KMP have also been killed. The group also revealed that 129 peasants are among the victims of enforced disappearances, including Nilo Arado, a member of the KMP’s National Council.

Kasama-TK’s Lacandazo said that in Southern Tagalog, 63 farmers have been killed.

Arrested peasant leaders include Randall Echanis, KMP deputy secretary general for external affairs.

Echanis’ son Ranmil told the crowd that his father was arrested on January 28, 2008 for trumped-up charges of multiple murder in connection with an alleged mass grave in Leyte. Ranmil said his father was being held incommunicado when the alleged crime took place. The old Echanis remains detained at the Manila City Jail pending the Supreme Court decision on his case.

Lacandazo said that regional and provincial peasant leaders are among those charged with multiple murder and other crimes for allegedly participating in New People’s Army (NPA) raids in Lemery, Batangas and Calapan City, Mindoro Oriental.

Among the respondents are Orly Marcellana, secretary general of Kasama-TK; Renato Alvarez, acting chair of Kasama-TK; Rommel Valdez, peasant leader in Cavite; and, Rogelio Galit, spokesperson of Kasama-TK.

Gloria must go

Ocampo said Arroyo’s sins against the peasantry and the Filipino people constitute grave crimes. “Hindi na dapat pang magtagal si Gloria Arroyo kundi lalong lulubha ang kalagayan ng magbubukid.” (Gloria Arroyo must not be allowed to remain in power any longer otherwise the situation of peasants would only worsen.)

“Kung isinara na nila ang impeachment bilang ligal na paraan para mapaalis si Gloria sa pwesto, mamamayan ang gagawa ng paraan,” (If they are closing down the impeachment process as a legal means to oust Gloria from power, the people would find other means.) Ocampo said further.

In November last year, Arroyo’s allies at the House of Representatives killed the latest impeachment complaint against President Arroyo.

Teresita agreed, “Sama-sama nating patalsikin si Gloria Arroyo.” (Let us collectively oust Gloria Arroyo.

Gabriela Women’s Party Representative Liza Maza urged the audience to oppose the sinister moves of the Arroyo government. She said that the House of Representatives is set to tackle on Tuesday House Speaker Prospero Nograles’ proposal to lift the restriction on land ownership for foreign corporations.

House Resolution No. 737 seeks to allow 100 percent foreign ownership of land.

Carmen Deunida, chairperson emeritus of Kalipunan ng Damayang Mahihirap (Kadamay) slammed the proposal. “Pilipinas ito, atin ito.” (This is Philippines. This land is ours.)

Deunida said Filipinos are not the real squatters in the county but the big foreign corporations who occupy vast tracts of land.

Continuing struggle

Gili said, “Noon pa, lupa na ang dahilan ng digmaan… hanggang hindi nalulutas ang suliranin sa lupa, patuloy na lalaban ang magsasaka.” (The problem of land has historically been the root of the armed conflict…while the problem of land has not been solved, the peasantry would continue with their struggle.)

Lacandazo said, “Sa kanayunan, hakbang-hakbang na ipinatutupad ang tunay na reporma sa lupa sa pamamagitan ng sama-samang pagkilos ng mga magsasaka.” (In the countryside, genuine land reform is being implemented step-by-step through the collective action of peasants.)

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