“The Filipino peasantry has had enough of Aquino’s blatant disregard for the peoples demand for justice and genuine land reform.” – Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas
By JANESS ANN J. ELLAO
MANILA — Peasants and rights advocates called for the ouster of President Benigno Aquino III during a protest action in Mendiola in commemoration of the 27th year anniversary of the infamous Mendiola Massacre.
“The Filipino peasantry has had enough of Aquino’s blatant disregard for the peoples demand for justice and genuine land reform. We will work hard and link arms with the people for the realization of our call to oust Aquino and for system change,” said Rafael Mariano, chairperson of Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas, said.
Peasants from various provinces joined the commemoration in Mendiola. The speakers in the protest action related how after nearly three decades had passed since peasants marching toward Mendiola bridge to demand for genuine agrarian reform were fired upon resulting in the killing of 13 peasants, they are still experiencing the same landlessness, harassment and even killings among their ranks.
On Jan. 22, 1987, thousands of famers marched toward Malacañang to demand for genuine agrarian reform from the then newly installed president Corazon Cojuangco-Aquino. But they, Mariano said, were “met by a volley of live bullets by the military.”
Those killed were: 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.
Now under the presidency of the son of the late former president Corazon Aquino, peasant groups believe that not much has changed. Hacienda Luisita, for one, remain under the Cojuangco-Aquino family’s control despite a recent Supreme Court decision ordering its distribution to the rightful owners the farm workers, Joseph Canlas, chairperson of Alyansa ng mga Magbubukid sa Gitnang Luson, said during the protest action.
He added that peasants have suffered long enough not to demand for the ouster of Aquino.
“All ‘straight path’ promises did not happen. It was the other way around,” he said.
Killings, harassments continue
Mariano said peasants remain a “target of fascist attacks by the Aquino regime,” citing the eviction of farmers in Hacienda Luisita, who, despite the Supreme Court decision, are being displaced from their lands, which the Cojuangco-owned Tarlac Development Corporation is claiming.
In a previous Bulatlat.com report, Tadeco bulldozed hundreds of hectares of agricultural land and destroyed the crops of the farm worker beneficiaries. The farm workers subsequently filed criminal charges against the Cojuangco family and the police.
Farmers were also arrested on Dec. 21, 2013. Three were eventually released but five are still detained in Camp Macabulos in Tarlac City.
The farmers of Hacienda Luisita have also raised suspicions over the cause of death of a colleague Dennis Dela Cruz who was found dead with head concussions on Nov. 1, 2013. Florida Sibayan, a peasant leader, said that days before he was found dead, De la Cruz expressed his fears because security guards often visited him during the wee hours.
“We came all the way from Tarlac but not even one Department of Agrarian Reform undersecretary wanted to face us on very urgent matters in Hacienda Luisita, especially the continued attacks of the Cojuangco-Aquino-owned Tarlac Development Corporation (TADECO) on the rights and livelihood of Luisita farmers,” Sibayan said.
This year, peasants of Hacienda Luisita would also commemorate the 10th year since the infamous Hacienda Luisita massacre, which claimed the lives of seven peasants.
In Hacienda Dolores, peasants, too, are being evicted to give way to two big real estate companies working in partnership with Ayala Land Inc. to build an upscale residential subdivision.
On Jan. 12, three peasants of Hacienda Dolores were fired upon by armed men. Arman Padino, one of the three, died a day later. He suffered a gunshot wound in the head.
Sally Padino, Arman’s sister, said Aquino’s promise of a straight or righteous path is marred by killings of peasants fighting for their land.
“I am not afraid to die. The next generation would continue the fight we started,” she said during the protest action.
Mariano cited that peasants in various provinces also fear eviction such as in the more than 300 hectares of land in San Jose Del Monte in Bulacan, which is being claimed by the Araneta family, and another 11,000 hectares of land in Hacienda Zobel in Calatagan, Batangas.
Nestor Villanueva of Kasama-TK, a peasant group in Southern Tagalog region, said during the protest action that peasant leaders are being killed, charged with trumped-up cases under the counterinsurgency program Oplan Bayanihan to cripple the progressive movement in the area.
Solidarity from other sectors
Members of other progressive organizations also attended the protest action in solidarity with the peasants.
“Land is life,” Garry Martinez, chairperson of Migrante International, said during the protest action.
Martinez added that the failure of the government to implement genuine agrarian reform has pushed and forced many Filipinos to work abroad.
Ferdinand Gaite of government employees union Courage said they are in solidarity with peasants, adding that jobs, salaries and incentives of state workers are also, in a way, being massacred by the government.
Anakbayan chairperson Vencer Crisostomo criticized the lack of justice for the victims of the massacre.
“27 years after, the same structural inequalities that gave rise to the Mendiola Massacre remain today: the concentration of political, economic, and military power in the hands of a few landlords, and the utter lack of justice for the majority of Filipinos” said Crisostomo added.
Gabriela Rep. Luzviminda Ilagan said the inability of the Aquino government to achieve food and rice sufficiency is reflective of the government’s failure to implement genuine land reform. She added that the government’s refusal to distribute land to poor families has resulted to widespread hunger.
“The Philippines is an agricultural country. But those who till the land have nothing to eat,” Ilagan said.
The Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas called on all progressive country to form a united front to call for the ouster of Aquino.
“Aquino’s disregard for lives is shown in his anti-poor policies, which mean a slow death for millions of Filipinos. The pork barrel system, which Aquino defends, actually denies Filipinos their right to a decent life and enhances the forces of death in society. Aquino is to blame for the death of thousands when supertyphoon Yolanda hit the country,” Roger Soluta of Kilusang Mayo Uno said.
The peasant group said, “it is high-time to advance the call for system change because majority of the Filipino people also have had enough of a system controlled by corrupt bureaucrats that only serves the interests of big landlords and local and foreign big businesses.”