“Comrades, have the massacres, killings and land grabbing stopped?” peasant leader Rafael Mariano asked. The crowd gave a resounding no.
By ANNE MARXZE D. UMIL
MANILA – Teresita Arjona, 57, makes sure she travels to Manila every 22nd of January to commemorate the death of her husband Danilo and 12 other martyrs of Mendiola Massacre. She said it has been 28 years and yet there is still no justice.
On January 22, peasants from Central Luzon and Southern Tagalog once again gathered to call for justice for those who were killed. Arjona was there, carrying the picture of her husband Danilo.
She vividly remembers Jan. 22, 1987, the end of their eight-day campout at the Ministry (now Department) of Agrarian Reform in Quezon City. Some 15,000 to 20,000 protesters marched from the ministry to Liwasang Bonifacio, and then after a short program, proceeded to Mendiola. Farmers are calling on President Cory Aquino to distribute the land and implement genuine agrarian reform.
When the farmers and their supporters reached Claro M. Recto, police and Marines were already blocking their way to Malacañang. The protesters were negotiating with the police, said Arjona , when suddenly a bottle was thrown at the protesters from one of the buildings around the area. “And then the police and marines started to fire their guns and everybody was running away. My husband who was in the frontline was shot in the head,” said Arjona. She, on the other hand, was able run to safety.
Arjona said that when the dictatorial regime of Ferdinand Marcos was overthrown, and Aquino became president, she promised to implement genuine agrarian reform.
“The dark days of martial law had just ended and we had hopes that Aquino will fulfill that promise (implement genuine agrarian reform). That is why we have come and camped-out in front of MAR to call on Aquino to implement genuine agrarian reform as she had promised,” said Arjona.
She said the farmers led by then national president of the Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas Jaime Tadeo had a dialogue with the Minister of Agrarian Reform Heherson Alvarez. Alvarez, for his part, told the farmers he will relay the matter to the President in a cabinet meeting on Jan. 21, 1987.
But their call was not heeded by the first Aquino administration. The next day, Jan. 22, the farmers decided to march their way to Malacañang to air their grievances. “But the government response was violence,” Arjona lamented.
The martyrs of the Mendiola Massacre are: Danilo Arjona, Leopoldo Alonzo, Adelfa Aribe, Dionisio Bautista, Roberto Caylao, Vicente Campomanes, Ronilo Dumanico, Dante Evangelio, Angelito Gutierrez, Rodrigo Grampan, Bernabe Laquindanum, Sonny Boy Perez, and Roberto Yumul.
There were 39 who sustained gunshot wounds and 12 sustained other injuries. Three police and military personnel also sustained gunshot wounds and 20 sustained minor injuries.
The Citizens’ Mendiola Commission
To investigate the massacre, Aquino set up the Citizens’ Mendiola Commission , composed of retired Supreme Court Justice Vicente Abad Santos as chairman, retired Supreme Court Justice Jose Y. Feria as member and Antonio U. Miranda.
In its report, the commission said that the KMP-led protest was not covered by any permit as required under the Public Assembly Act of 1985. The commission report also said that crowd dispersal control units of the police and the military were armed with .38 and .45 caliber handguns, and M-16 Armalites also in violation of the aforementioned law.
“It was also illegal that the security men assigned to protect the WPD, INP Field Force, the Marines and supporting military units, as well as the security officers of the police and military commanders were in civilian attire,” the report read.
The commission recommended criminal prosecution of the four unidentified, uniformed individuals, shown either on tape or in pictures, firing at the direction of the marchers. They also recommended that the officers under the Western Police District and the INP Field Force who were armed during the incident be also prosecuted under the Public Assembly Act of 1985.
They also recommended the prosecution of the marchers, for carrying deadly or offensive weapons. Peasant leader Tadeo was recommended to be charged with violation of Batas Pambansa Blg. 880 for holding the rally without a permit and for violation of Article 142, as amended, of the Revised Penal Code, or inciting to sedition.
The commission recommended that the government compensate the family of those who have died, and the wounded victims. In 1988, relatives of the victims filed a P6.5 million class suit before the Manila Regional Trial Court Branch 9 under Edilberto Sandoval but the case was later dismissed.
In 1993, the relatives elevated their case to the Supreme Court; however, the high court only upheld the earlier RTC decision, citing the state’s immunity from suit.
In 2011, the KMP and other peasant organizations urged the Department of Justice to reopen the case but there is still no update regarding their appeal, said Arjona.
Fighting for justice
Former Anakpawis Rep. Rafael Mariano was the secretary general of the KMP when the Mendiola massacre took place. At the program at the Mendiola Bridge (now called as Chino Roces Bridge), Mariano recalled seeing fire trucks positioned at the back of the police and Marines. Mariano said they wanted to negotiate but the police wouldn’t budge. Police men started pushing the farmers on the other side of Mendiola. Then came the water cannon and tear gas.
“We ran as we took off our shirts, and dipped them in a vendor’s tub of samalamig (cool drinks). We wiped our eyes that were burning from the teargas. When we asked the vendor how much we owe him, he said ‘don’t bother, it’s free.’”
Mariano said a resident let them inside their house for a while. When they got out of Mendiola, they saw scattered slippers and a dead body. “A car past by and we pleaded to bring the dead man to the hospital.” He said they were not able to identify who among the 13 martyrs that dead man was.
“It is so saddening to recall that day. But comrades, have the massacres, killings and land grabbing stopped?” Mariano asked. The crowd gave a resounding no.
“That is why we should always commemorate the Mendiola massacre because up to now, no one has been prosecuted. Even the recommendation of the commission to prosecute the perpetrators was not heeded, not by the previous administrations, much less by the son of first Aquino administration.”