On 22 January 1987, state security forces opened fire on farmers demanding genuine land reform from then president Corazon Aquino in Mendiola bridge near Malacanang Palace. 13 farmers were killed while almost one hundred other people were injured in what has been since called the Mendiola massacre. 22 January 2017 is the 30th year of the massacre, yet until now those responsible for the bloody dispersal of the farmers’ protest have yet to be brought to justice.
Yet the Mendiola massacre was not an isolated event. In the Philippines, land is concentrated in the hands of a few while a large part of the population are farmers who own almost no land and who live below the poverty line. Recent developments in the country related to land disputes and agrarian reform under President Rodrigo Duterte are also becoming a cause for worry.
In 2016, four farmers were shot to death by members of an armed force connected with a local politician and police official in the province of Nueva Ecija. In Hacienda Luisita in Tarlac province, goons connected with the powerful Cojuangco family continue to demolish farmers’ houses and communal farms. Tens of thousands of farm workers continued to experience extreme hunger in the island of Negros, especially during the Tiempo Muerto, when there is no work to be found in sugar plantations. Farm workers in Tagum City were indiscriminately fired upon by armed men under the employ of Lapanday Corporation on several occasions and injuring dozens of farmers, including several children. And on 20 January, a leader of the National Federation of Sugar Workers (NFSW) in Negros was shot by armed men allegedly in the employ of a local politician and landlord. He was rushed to the hospital, where he died a short while later.
And the list goes on.
The government should recognize the fact that genuine agrarian reform is an important aspect for the development of the Philippines, and that the country cannot move forward unless it addresses and resolves the land disputes and other agrarian issues faced by the majority of Filipinos. Millions of farmers will continue to experience hunger and countless more will fall victim to violations of human rights unless President Duterte makes good on his word to bring meaningful change to the lives of the Filipinos, something which he has yet to do.
These continuing violations of the right to land are an affront to the rights and dignity of the farmers in our country, who sow the seeds of the food we eat yet do not own the land they till. On the commemoration of the 30th year of the Mendiola massacre, let us not forget all the farmers who have sacrificed sweat, blood and life for land, peace, justice and meaningful change.
Renmin Crisanta Abraham Vizconde
(Photo from Dino Doliente)