Nobody seems to remember. Maybe only a few. Maybe because the day fell on the lunar new year this year. Sunday, January 22, was the 36th anniversary of the “Mendiola Massacre.”
On January 22, 1987, thousands of farmers marched on the presidential palace in Manila to demand genuine land reform under the newly installed administration of the late president Corazon Aquino.
Upon reaching the Mendiola Bridge that links the heart of the city to the palace, riot police and marines opened fire on more than 20,000 farmers and their supporters.
After the shootings, 13 lay dead while more than 80 others were wounded.
“Thirty-six years after the Mendiola Massacre, most of our farmers remain landless and at the mercy of landowners,” says Jon Bonifacio, national coordinator of Kalikasan People’s Network for the Environment.
The environmental activist says farmers continue to face “uncertainty with lands being taken over by vested interests.”
He says pursuing “genuine land reform” means giving farmers sufficient resources to ensure food security and low prices for basic agricultural products.”
Christian youth activist Kej Andres, who might not be born when the “massacre” happened, says young Christians walk “in solidarity with the toiling peasants … to demand life that is just and full.”
He says Filipino farmers “continue to be slain either by state violence or by anti-peasant policies of the government.”
Peasant leader Danilo Ramos still recalls the explosions, the tear gas, the bullets, the blood, and the cries for help on that fateful day.
“It seems it only happened yesterday,” he says. His youngest child was born a few months before the incident happened. “Now he’s 36 years old,” Ramos says.
Documentary photojournalist Ray Panaligan was an 18-year-old activist when the farmers were killed.
“We could hardly breathe as we ran toward a cloud of tear gas…. It was the logical choice, or be arrested, or shot,” he recalls.
The massacre scuttled talks between the government and the communists that year. A year later, Congress passed the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program.
“Nothing seems to have changed,” says a teary-eyed Ramos. “Help me convince myself that there is hope.” he adds.
Kalikasan PNE’s Bonifacio says it is “alarming” that nearly four decades after the so-called Mendiola Massacre, “the complete disregard for the rights of our land defenders continues.”
“Now more than ever, we need to ensure that their rights are protected, especially as they play a crucial role in our fight against climate change,” he says.
Data from the Philippine Peasant Movement show that through the years, agrarian reform coverage in the country increased to 3.8 million hectares in 1991, and to 5.4 million hectares in 2016.
It is, however, less than half of the total 12.6 million hectares of agricultural lands in the country.