“We cannot allow Duterte to have his way and continue the massacre of farmers through political killings and burdensome economic policies.”
By ANNE MARXZE D. UMIL
MANILA — On the 31st commemoration of the Mendiola massacre, farmers along with members of progressive groups marched to Chino Roces bridge (formerly Mendiola bridge) and vowed to strengthen their struggle for genuine land reform amid the intensifying attacks to their ranks under the Duterte administration.
The farmers under the Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP) and other peasant groups declared President Duterte as an “enemy of the people and the peasant masses.”
“We cannot allow Duterte to have his way and continue the massacre of farmers through political killings and burdensome economic policies. It is high time for social sectors to unite and call for President Duterte’s ouster. Farmers will be a formidable force in the broad people’s movement against Duterte,” said KMP secretary general Antonio Flores.
It was on Jan. 22, 1987 when the massacre took place at the foot of Mendiola bridge near the gates of Malacanang Palace. The farmers, about 20,000 of them, were culminating their eight-day campout at the Ministry (now Department) of Agrarian when they proceeded to Mendiola. They called on then President Corazon Aquino to distribute the land and implement genuine agrarian reform. The skirmish happened when suddenly a bottle was thrown toward the protesters and the police and Marines started firing at them.
Thirteen of the protesting farmers died and several others were injured. Those who died were Danilo Arjona, Leopoldo Alonzo, Adelfa Aribe, Dionisio Bautista, Roberto Caylao, Vicente Campomanes, Ronilo Dumunico, Dante Evangelio, Angelito Gutierrez, Rodrigo Grampan, Bernabe Laquindanum, Sonny Boy Perez and Roberto Yumul.
But 31 years after, farmers are still being targeted in every administration, said Evan Hernandez of Hustisya.
“Thirty one years have passed and the situation is still the same. The killings and massacre continues in different places in our country,” said Hernandez during the program. She cited the recent killing of farmers, James Flores on Jan. 20 and Anecito Lopez Jr. on Jan. 22.
At least 111 farmers were killed under Duterte according to KMP.
Elmer Dayson of the Alyansa ng Magbubukid sa Gitnang Luzon (AMGL) also said Jan. 22 is significant to farmers especially that many farmers are still being killed. He said under Duterte, nine farmers from Central Luzon were killed. The latest killing was that of a 72-year-old Catholic priest who was a staunch supporter of farmers in Central Luzon, Fr. Marcelito “Tito” Paez.
He said despite the continued attacks, the farmers in Central Luzon and the rest of the country would continue to fight for genuine agrarian reform. He said the bungkalan (cultivation) in Nueva Ecija and other parts of the country shows their assertion of their right to own the land they till.
“The government does not have the political will to grant us what we have been demanding for that is why we have to always fight for it,” he said.
KMP chairperson Danilo Ramos, meanwhile, said the latest US counterinsurgency program Operation Pacific Eagle-Philippines coupled with the Armed Forces of the Philippines’ Oplan Kapayapaan “are sure to worsen the human rights situation in the country.”
He said under Duterte, farmers and peasant leaders are being tagged as supporters of the New People’s Army.
“Those killed are farmers who are actively fighting for their land rights. They are civilians targeted by the AFP’s intense militarization,” Ramos said in a statement.
“With the full implementation of the US-directed anti-terrorism mission Operation Pacific Eagle-Philippines, the AFP would definitely step up its abuses and human rights violations against civilians. When government forces could not go after the NPA, farmers and rural folks become default targets of military operations,” he added.
Fight 100 percent foreign ownership of the land
The groups also lambasted the railroading of Charter Change (Chacha) in the House of Representative and the recent passage of the Tax Reform for Acceleration and Inclusion (TRAIN).
Zen Soriano, of the National Federation of Peasant Women (Amihan), said there are proposed amendments to the 1987 Constitution that remove restrictions on foreign investments in the country.
Section 10 of the 1987 Constitution states, “The Congress shall, upon recommendation of the economic and planning agency, when the national interest dictates, reserve to citizens of the Philippines or to corporations or associations at least sixty per centum of whose capital is owned by such citizens, or such higher percentage as Congress may prescribe, certain areas of investments.”
Soriano said Chacha would only worsen land grabbing and will result to displacement of farmers from their lands “as it would legalize and systematize multinational corporations’ monopoly control and plunder of the country’s natural resources.”
Former Agrarian Reform Sec. Rafael Mariano also said that there is an existing law which technically allows foreign companies to own land in the Philippines. Mariano said Republic Act 7653, An Act Allowing the Long-term Lease of Private Lands by Foreign Investors allows foreign investors to lease private land up to 50 years. The lease contract is also renewable once for a period of not more than 25 years.
But Congressmen are not satisfied with this, said Mariano. “They wanted to change the whole Constitution also because of their vested interests like term extension,” said Mariano.
Meanwhile, Flores said the same protest also took place in Southern Mindanao Region including Duterte’s hometown Davao City. He said this day’s protest was a kick-off of bungkalan in Mindanao. He said the in the past year, peasant groups have successfully occupied and cultivated in Haciendas including Hacienda Luisita in Tarlac.
“This year we will launch and intensify our struggle for our right to till our land and the ouster of Duterte who has proven to be an enemy of the people, ” said Flores.
The group also announced a bigger mobilization on Feb. 25.
“We call on all sectors, personalities and the broad masses disillusioned by Duterte’s failed promises and provoked by the rising tyranny and unending economic woes to unite. On Feb. 25, we will mobilize once more against the aspiring dictator in Malacanang,” Ramos said.