No land, no justice 28 years after Mendiola massacre

By Manila Today staff, with reports from Merrowen M. Mendoza and Rouczar M. Pablo | Featured photo by Conrad Panelo

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Peter “Tatay Pido” Gonzales Sr., 71, a survivor of the Mendiola Massacre, gets teary-eyed whenever he would remember that dreadful day when 13 of his comrades died after state forces opened fire at their protest march.

“‘Yung nerbiyos ko noon ay hindi ko maisalarawan ngayon. Nakita ko yung mga patay na isinakay sa dyip, sa ibabaw ng dyip. Hindi ko na malaman kung saan ako pupunta, nagkahiwa-hiwalay kami. ‘Yung iba tinago ng mga tindahan diyan kasi hinahanap na ng mga pulis pero ako sumakay ako ng dyip kahit hindi ko alam kung saan ako pupunta [I cannot start to describe how nervous I was back then. I saw those killed got loaded on jeepneys, on top of jeepneys. I did not know where to go, my companions and I were separated from each other. Others were hidden by store owners because the police started arresting protesters. I rode a jeepney without knowing where I was headed],” Tatay Pido narrated.

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Peter “Tatay Pido” Gonzales Sr., 71, a survivor of the Mendiola Massacre. (Photo by Conrad Panelo)

Although now aided by a walking stick, Tatay Pido never fails to attend the commemoration of Mendiola Massacre every year.

This year, over 1,300 farmers and members of progressive groups marched from the University of Sto. Tomas (UST) to Mendiola to demand justice for the 13 slain farmers.

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Farmers and advocates march to Mendiola to commemorate the 28th year of the Mendiola massacre. (Photo by Demie Dangla)

The night before, farmers held a vigil and cultural night in front of the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR). Farmers who joined the the vigil came from areas that are, according to them, “affected by massive land grabbing”:  Bulacan, Pampanga, Batangas, Palawan, Nueva Ecija and Tarlac.

Before marching to UST, the farmers held a short program in front of the residence of President Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III in Times Street, Quezon City. President Noynoy is the son of late Corazon “Cory” Cojuangco-Aquino who was president when the Mendiola Massacre happened just outside the presidential palace, Malacanang.

Simultaneous protest actions of farmers also took place at Santiago City in Isabela and Naga in Luzon; Bacolod City in Visayas; and Butuan City, Pagadian City and Davao City in Mindanao.

 

Fighting for the same cause

On January 22, 1987, 20,000 farmers marched to Mendiola to demand then President Corazon Aquino to distribute the Cojuangco family-owned Hacienda Luisita and other big landholdings in the country. President Cory brought with her the promise of democracy and social change after the EDSA People Power Revolution in 1986 that toppled the dictatorship of Ferdinand Marcos. But the protest ended with a violent dispersal.

Also known as ‘Black Thursday’ to some, the massacre took the lives of 13 farmers and wounded 105 others. Fifteen protesters were arrested that day.

Like land reform, justice remains elusive for the relatives of the massacre victims.

“Hustisya pa rin (ang hiling namin para) dun sa mga biktima ng Mendiola Massacre, at sa iba pang mga magsasakang tinamaan din ng ganitong pangmamasaker, torture, enforced disappearances, at patuloy na marahas na ginagawa ng gobyerno laban sa mga magsasaka. [We continue to seek justice for the victims of the Mendiola Massacre, and for other peasants who are also victims of massacres, torture, enforced disappearances, and the continuing harassment of the government against farmers],” said Joseph Canlas, vice-chairperson of Kilusang Magbubukid and Pilipinas (KMP).

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Teresita Arjona, 57, wife of Danilo Arjona, one of the slain victims of the Mendiola massacre. (Photo by Conrad Panelo)

Teresita Arjona, 57, wife of slain victim Danilo Arjona, narrated she was also present during the massacre. However, she was separated from her husband who was in the frontlines when they were dispersed.

“Matagal nang nagdusa ang aming mga pamilya sa kawalang hustisya. Hindi kami titigil sa paghahanap ng katarungan para sa mga kaanak naming napatay [Our families suffered the lack of justice for a long time. Yet we will not cease to seek justice for our kin who were killed in the massacre],” Arjona said, speaking in behalf of the victims’ families.

Despite the tragedy of the Mendiola Massacre, Arjona and Tatay Pido, both survivors, said they will continue to fight for their rights until their last breath.

“Hindi nasayang ang kanilang dugo (mga namasaker) dahil itutuloy namin ang laban at hinding-hindi na kami papayag na may dadanak na dugo sa Mendiola [The blood that those killed shed for this cause is not wasted for we will continue the fight and we will never let blood be spilled on Mendiola                                                              again],” Tatay Pido said.

 

GARB, not CARPER

Canlas said that farmers continue to demand for genuine agrarian reform to this day.

“Panawagan din namin na maisabatas ang isang tunay na reporma sa lupa na kasalukuyang nakahain sa kongreso, ‘yung Genuine Agrarian Reform Bill [We are calling for the enactment of the Genuine Agrarian Reform Bill],” Canlas said.

House Bill 252 or the Genuine Agrarian Reform Bill (GARB), which the farmers claim is the answer to their land woes, is now on its fourth reading in committee level in the House of Representative.

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Farmers urged the Aquino administration to pass a genuine land reform program. (Photo by Manila Today)

According to Rafael “Ka Paeng” Mariano, former representative of Anakpawis Partylist and chairman of KMP, they expect GARB to undergo one or two more readings. After that, the Committee on Agrarian Reform in Congress would vote and release a committee report for a plenary deliberation to start.

A survivor himself of the Mendiola Massacre, Mariano said that GARB is supported by various organizations of farmers, such as Unyon ng mga Manggagawa sa Agrikultura (UMA), Pambansang Pederasyon ng Kababaihang Magbubukid (AMIHAN), Pambansang Lakas ng Kilusang Mamamalakaya (PAMALAKAYA), among others. GARB seeks to end the monopoly of land by big landlords and foreign and local corporations.

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Rafael “Ka Paeng” Mariano, former representative of Anakpawis Partylist and chairman of KMP, discusses the plight of landless farmers (Photo by Demie Dangla)

“Ang batayang prinsipyo na gumagabay sa GARB ay pagsasabansa ng lahat ng lupaing agrikultural sa bansa at libreng pamamahagi ng lupa sa ating mga magsasaka, kaibang-iba sa nilalaman ng mga huwad na reporma sa lupa [The basic principles that guide GARB is the nationalization of all agricultural lands in our country and free land distribution to the farmers, which is a far cry from the enacted bogus land reforms],” said Mariano.

The Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program Extension with Reforms (CARPER) law expired on June 30, 2014. Mariano said that the continuing landlessness of farmers only proves how CARPER did not truly solve the land problems in the country.

 

 

 

 

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