26 years after Mendiola massacre, farmers still fight for genuine land reform

Agrarian reform has not yet been achieved, no matter how Aquino seeks to create the illusion that his administration has finished implementing it.


MANILA – Peasants and activists commemorated the 26th year of the infamous Mendiola massacre in a protest action, January 22, at the foot of Mendiola (now Chino Roces) bridge.

“The free distribution of lands was our demand 26 years ago and the first Aquino government’s response was a rain of bullets and a bogus land reform called CARP (Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program),” Antonio Flores, spokesperson of Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP), said.

“Until now, the vast majority of farmers are landless and the Cojuangco family still controls Hacienda Luisita,” Flores added.

On that fateful day on Jan. 22, 1987, thousands of farmers and their supporters marched to Mendiola Bridge, which is just a stone’s throw away from Malacañang Palace, to press then president Corazon Aquino to implement genuine agrarian reform. Then President Aquino was catapulted to power by the Filipino people who had been demanding for change from the oppressive dictatorship. Land reform was and is still is an important measure toward social justice. And the people, including the restive peasants, had thought there was democratic space.

Security forces led by the Capital Regional Command then under Gen. Ramon Montaño, Task Force Nazareno’s Col. Cesar Nazareno and the Western Police District led by Brig. Gen. Alfredo Lim, now Mayor of Manila, were prepared to block the protesters reportedly estimated at between 10,000 and 15,000.

When the farmers reached Mendiola bridge, the government forces opened fired, killing 13 farmers and wounding 39 others. Killed were Danilo Arjona, Evangelio, Leopoldo Alonzo, Angelito Guiterrez, Adelfa Aribe, Rodrigo Grampan, Dionisio Bautista, Bernabe Laquindanum, Roberto Caylo, Sonny Boy Perez, Vincent Campomanes, Roberto Yumul, and Ronilo Dumanico.

Fast forward to today. Peasants said President Benigno “Noynoy” C. Aquino III, who had campaigned under the banner of change, still responds to their demand for their right to own the land they till with the same oppressive measures: deception under the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program with Extension and Reforms (CARPER) and violence under the counterinsurgency program Oplan Bayanihan. Anakbayan chairman Vencer Crisostomo said this counterinsurgency plan is being used to attack farmers demanding for genuine agrarian reform.

“Noynoy Aquino is a living proof that a haciendero president will always protect haciendero interests,” Crisostomo said.

Citing a study by the think tank Ibon Foundation, Renato Reyes, secretary general of Bayan, said that among post-Marcos presidents, Aquino performed the worst in terms of land distribution – his average was 14,942 hectares per month.

“Furthermore, 66-percent of lands distributed under Aquino are government lands and not those controlled by powerful landlords. At its current rate, CARPER is already five years behind its scheduled completion,” Bayan’s statement read.

Instead of implementing genuine agrarian reform, Reyes said, the “Aquino administration is even peddling the deception of a growing economy that’s supposedly inclusive when, in reality, a great majority of our people, most of whom are from peasant families, are still mired in abject poverty,”

In a survey conducted by the Social Weather Stations, Bayan said the number of jobless Filipinos increased by 2.7 million between 2010 and 2012; the number of poor families increased by 1.5 million while those experiencing hunger grew by 0.5 million families.

“The only explanation for these deteriorating social indicators is the government’s failure to implement a program for national industrialization and genuine agrarian reform,” Reyes said.

Drumbeating illusions of agrarian reform

At the commemoration of the massacre in Mendiola, Anakpawis Rep. Rafael Mariano said he expects that debates about what the government has done so far in implementing agrarian reform will intensify as CARPER nears its end in 2014.

The Philippine government has been implementing the longest and most expensive agrarian reform program in the world, said Flores. He added that the government would further insult the memories of the victims of the Mendiola Massacre now that “President Aquino is bent on extending the sham CARP thus prolonging the pain and deceptions inflicted on the victims.”

One act of the Aquino government last year purportedly to show its dedication to implement genuine agrarian reform is the issuance of Administrative Order no. 34, or “Creating an Inter-Agency Committee on Institutional Arrangements for Land Management and Rural Development.”

Mariano told Bulatlat.com that this only signifies the government’s admission that CARP has failed at distributing lands.

The inter-agency committee or the “superbody”, Mariano said, aims to create the illusion that the government has already implemented an agrarian reform program. One of its provisions states that agencies involved would streamline the delivery of their support services in the country side.

“The delivery of support services, agrarian reform beneficiary development, and the smooth transfer of the mandate of the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) to the Department of Agriculture (DA) are continuing concerns of the government to ensure that the gains of land distribution under the CARP are sustained,” the AO 34 read.

The National Economic and Development Authority would head the Inter-Agency Committee on Institutional Arrangements for Land Management and Agricultural Support Services Delivery Across Rural Development Agencies. It is to be composed of cabinet secretaries from the following: Department of Agrarian Reform, Department of Agriculture, Department of Environment and Natural Resources, Department of Justice, Department of Budget and Management and the administrator of the Land Registration Authority.

“The mere fact that the committee is headed by NEDA goes to show that this is not a form of social justice legislation. Just to mention PDP (Philippine Development Plan) means it is market-oriented with less government intervention — it would not benefit the masses,” Mariano said.

The “superbody” is mandated to pursue and complete CARP. It includes “distributing the remaining land acquisition and balance of the program; stabilizing collective titles; and, payment of distributed but not yet documented or (still) unpaid land.”

It will also rationalize “provision of support services to farmers and fisherfolk” and formulate a transition plan for the post-CARP scenario.

“This ‘superbody’ will only create an illusion that the distribution of land is already achieved and all the government needs to do now is to provide services. But in reality, many peasants have yet to own the lands they till,” Mariano said. He cited the farmworkers of Hacienda Luisita and in Negros Occidental as big examples.

“Thousands of hectares of land, especially in Mindanao, are tied in long-term leasehold agreements with multinational corporations,” Mariano said. These lands, he added, are not covered by the agrarian reform.

Mariano warned that the Administrative Order 34 would “likely lead to the death of government agencies such as the Department of Agrarian Reform, Department of Agriculture,” among others, because AO 34 says streamlining of land distribution and agricultural support services will result to “reorganization and rationalization of concerned government agencies.”

Land grabbing

Protesters also slammed the continuing land grabbing of multinational corporations. Anakbayan and labor group Kilusang Mayo Uno criticized the current “moves to revive foreign-owned banana and coconut plantations and large-scale mining and logging operations in Mindanao,” instead of addressing the needs of the people to rebuild their lives after the destruction brought about by Typhoon Pablo last December.

The youth group warned that the operations of these multinational corporations will result in the destruction of the country’s natural resources and an economy heavily dependent on exporting raw materials.

“Aquino should implement genuine land reform for our own farmers’ and people’s food security. Failure to do so will only aggravate unprecedented hunger and poverty and inhumane living conditions in our country,” Crisostomo concluded.

Support from other sectors

Anakbayan also remembered the seven farmers who were killed in Hacienda Luisita during their strike against the company’s unfair labor practices eight years ago. In a statement, they said the injustice continues as the 6,453-hectare land is still under the control of the Cojuangco-Aquino family despite the Supreme Court decision on November 2010 saying farmers are the rightful owners of the land.

KMU secretary general Roger Soluta said CARP only facilitated the further “concentration of lands in the hands of a few families.”

“Years of land monopoly have resulted in thousands of farmers being killed for fighting for the land they till. We demand the immediate distribution of Hacienda Luisita, the scrapping of Aquino’s bogus land reform and the passage of the Genuine Agrarian Reform Bill,” Anakbayan said.

Joining the protest action, Rodel Mesa, a peasant activist from Hacienda Luisita, said they would not give up their struggle to win back the land because, “morally and historically, that land is ours.” (https://www.bulatlat.com)

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