farmers in the Philippines

[OPINION] Remember the Mendiola Massacre, uphold the struggle for land

Melo Mar Cabello
[OPINION] Remember the Mendiola Massacre, uphold the struggle for land
'Land reform should be one of the top electoral priorities in the upcoming national elections'

On this day in 1987, protesters led by Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP) marched to Mendiola waving their banners and placards, calling for genuine land reform, a campaign promise of late President Cory Aquino who replaced ousted dictator Ferdinand Marcos. 

Instead of heeding their democratic demand, militant farmers were met with bullets from state forces. The protest turned into a violent dispersal that took the lives of 13 defenseless farmers and came to be known as the Mendiola Massacre.

Thirty-five years after the tragedy, land and justice remain elusive for Filipino farmers.

Struggle for justice

No one has been held accountable for the massacre. Worse, the bloodshed did not end there. 

Innocent blood of farmers spilled from Mendiola to the countryside and haciendas.

The bloody dispersal was followed by decades marked with countless massacres and human rights violations against farmers. These attacks are rationalized by tagging civilian farmers as members of the New People’s Army, a vicious tale as old as time told by state forces to drown voices of dissent.

For eight straight years, the Philippines was named Asia’s deadliest country for land and environmental defenders. Under the Duterte regime alone, 347 extrajudicial killings among the ranks of Filipino peasants have been documented. 

If farmers are not being killed in cold blood, they are slowly being killed with anti-farmer policies by a government that is deaf to their demands.

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Struggle for land

A year after the Mendiola Massacre, amid sustained pressure and widespread public outcry, the government rolled out the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program or CARP. 

Decades on, landlessness is still rampant.

Farmers in the countryside remain landless, with 9 in every 10 farmers tilling land they do not own. With no land of their own to till, farmers are held captive by big landlords and agribusiness that employ them at extremely low wages, essentially trapping them in a cycle of poverty. 

CARP, just like all the previous agrarian reform programs, failed because of its inherent flaws. Farmer-beneficiaries are required to pay amortizations for their awarded land for a period of 30 years. Failure to pay for three consecutive years would result in forfeiture of the land certificate award.

With meager government support, high production costs, and vulnerability to natural disasters, some farmers had to relinquish land ownership entirely.

That is why three decades and a half after the brutal massacre, protesters continue to swarm the streets of Mendiola every year — not only to commemorate Mendiola Massacre but also to forward the very same demands that farmers have been fighting for in decades. 

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The struggle continues

Land reform should be one of the top electoral priorities in the upcoming national elections. Farmers and advocates vow to challenge candidates to support the democratic demand of farmers for land.

In particular, peasants and advocates alike campaign for the passage of Genuine Agrarian Reform Bill (GARB), which seeks to distribute for free all agricultural lands to landless farmers. The bill filed by Anakpawis Party-list and the Makabayan bloc has languished in Congress for over a decade.

The struggle for land and justice continues. 

In honor of the peasant martyrs whose blood spilled on the streets of Mendiola, in sugarcane plantations and haciendas, and contested lands being land-grabbed by powerful landlords, we shall continue the fight for genuine land reform.

To remember the lives lost on Mendiola 35 years ago is to uphold the struggle for land. – Rappler.com

Melo Mar Cabello is the spokesperson of the National Network of Agrarian Reform Advocates-Youth (NNARA-Youth).

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