ON January 22, 1987, farmers led by Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP) marched to Mendiola to demand genuine agrarian reform from the newly-installed Corazon Aquino administration.
There, they were met by a multitude of police and military. While the farmers held a peaceful program, state forces proceeded to shoot at the protesters, leaving thirteen dead and at least fifty injured.
The massacre also led to the breakdown of the peace talks between the Aquino government and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP).
“Agricultural workers were only calling for genuine agrarian reform, but the landlords and hacienderos responded with violence,” said Danilo Ramos, secretary-general of Unyon ng Manggagawang Agrikultura (UMA). “Until now, there is no justice for the victims of the massacre.”
Ramos drew parallels between the 1987 Mendiola massacre and today’s farmers who still experience state violence as they continue to demand for their rights. “The situation has not changed greatly. The demand for genuine agrarian reform remains relevant to this day,” Ramos said.
The Mendiola massacre was investigated in succeeding years, but the government findings were inconclusive. Tessie Arjona, widow of a Mendiola massacre victim, now calls on Pres. Rodrigo Duterte to reopen the case made against the perpetrators.
“We were only calling for land. Why did they have to use violence against us?” Arjona asked.”Pres. Duterte must put on trial the military and police officers who killed my husband and bring about justice, even after all these years,” she said.
Farmers from Central Luzon, Southern Tagalog and other nearby areas held a protest Friday in Mendiola to commemorate the 30thanniversary of the massacre.
Rafael Mariano, secretary of the Department of Agrarian Reform and who was part of the Mendiola protest in 1987, assured the demonstrators that his agency would continue to assist farmers in their struggle for genuine land reform, in the face of abusive landlords and officials.
Since his appointment in 2016, Mariano has opened the national office of DAR to farmers, convened the Presidential Agrarian Reform Council (PARC) for the first time in 10 years, and distributed hundreds of hectares of land to peasants. The issue of genuine land reform is also a major agenda in the ongoing peace talks between the Duterte administration and the NDFP.
These are little victories, Mariano said, but reminded that farmers need to continue their vigilance and action in their struggle for real land reform. “The best thing that peasants should still rely on is still their continued organized struggle for genuine agrarian reform,” Mariano said. # (Abril Layad B. Ayroso)