MANILA, Philippines – What was supposed to be a peaceful mobilization on Mendiola Street in Manila to fight for rights to equal land distribution and decent wages turned into a violent, bloody dispersal on January 22, 1987.
Government forces opened fire on about 20,000 farm workers and peasants who were hoping to have a dialogue with then President Corazon Aquino in Malacañang. They just came from the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) in Quezon City, where they stayed for 8 days to call for genuine land reform.
The tragedy came to be known as the Mendiola Massacre.
It has been a long journey to justice, and it is not without a lot of challenges along the way. (READ: Mendiola Massacre: 27 years after, the same injustices)
Immediately following the massacre, Aquino created the Citizens’ Mendiola Commission which recommended the filing of criminal charges against all those responsible.
However, in 1988, the Manila Regional Trial Court dismissed the class suit of the families of the victims and survivors against the government and involved officials. The decision was upheld by the Supreme Court in March 1993, saying that the government has immunity from suit.
Now 28 years later and with another Aquino as president, the families of the victims and survivors said that they have yet to get justice.
As of posting, none has been indicted for the death of the farmers.
“Sa nakaraang dalawamput-walong taon ipinagkait sa mga biktima ng karumal-dumal na Mendiola Massacre ang katarungan (For the past 28 years, jstice has been denied to the victims of the gruesome Mendiola Massacre),” the Kilusang Mambubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP) said in a statement.
Each year, without failure, KMP and Anakpawis members, together with other peasant groups, encamp along the Elliptical Road in Quezon City to march to Mendiola to call for justice, ownership of the land they are tillin, and humane working conditions.
More than a hundred members of peasant groups marched on Thursday, January 22, to the Times Street residence of the Aquinos with the same cries they’ve been shouting for the past 28 years.
“Hindi natin hahayaang mauwi sa wala ang pagbubuwis ng buhay ng mga martir ng Mendiola Massacre,” KMP said. “Lupa at katarungan pa rin ang malakas na panawagan ng mga magsasakang Pilipino.”
(We will not let the sacrifices of the Mendiola Massacre victims go to waste. Genuine land reform and justice are still the top demands of Filipino farmers.)
According to the farmers, their push for the passage of Genuine Agrarian Reform Bill (GARB) or House Bill No. 3059 is reasonable and justified.
GARB’s central mandate is to distribute for free the lands to farmers who have long worked on them.
Land ownership has increasingly become centralized in the hands of a few families and corporations, according to activist farmers. Farmers lament their condition has worsened because of the failure of land reform in the country.
Members of the farming sector now belong to the poorest percentile in the Philippines. Despite being the top food producers, farmers and their families are hounded by problems of hunger and malnutrition.
“Ang pinakamalaking inhustisya sa bansa ay ang kawalang lupa ng mga magsasaka, na ilang siglo nang nagsakripisyo at naghirap upang lumikha ng ating pagkain at pangagailangan ngunit nanatiling nakikisaka at lubog sa hirap,” Anakpawis representative Fernando “Ka Pando” Hicap said in a statement. “Makatarungan lamang na ito’y wakasan,” he added.
(The greatest injustice in our country is lack of land ownership of the farmers who have sacrificed for centuries despite their hard work to produce food and other needs of the country. It is just to end this.)
Farmers for farmers
In 2011, members of peasant groups and families sought to reopen the case at the Department of Justice. Secretary Leila De Lima forwarded the case to the task force on extrajudicial killings.
However, the Aquino administration saw no reason to revive the case as it has already been “resolved.”
In a press briefing on January 21 in 2011, then Presidential Communications Development and Strategic Planning Office Head Ramon Carandang was quoted to have said that we “cannot keep revisiting issues over and over again.”
The farmers, despite the legal setback, continue to seek justice.
“Tanging ang lakas ng masang magsasaka kasama ng mamayan ang magsusulong ng katarungan, tunay na reporma sa lupa, at ng pagbabago ng sistemang panlipunan (Only the collective strength of the farmers and the people will advance social justice, genuine land reform, and social change),” KMP stressed. – Rappler.com
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