PHILIPPINES: Day 7-8: Farmers march, prays at historic places of land struggle

(Hong Kong, December 9, 2008) The needless deaths of 13 farmers, who held demonstrations demanding land reform, in Mendiola in Manila two decades ago cast a long shadow on the land reform struggles of the present day.

The regimes may have changed, however, the struggle and hopes of those who sacrificed their lives and their families remains the same to the farmers of today which is yet to be realized: to own a land they cultivate.

It was senseless that the farmers have to die at the Mendiola Massacre, the incident that subsequently resulted in the enactment of the land reform law—the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Programme (CARP). However, their deaths and suffering have given hope to other farmers that at sometime in the future may own the land they till.

However, two decades on, it appears that despite having legal rights and of the government’s responsibility to ensure distribution of lands to farmers, the struggle of those who died in the Mendiola Massacre is yet to be concluded. Today, even some of those who were present when the massacre took place, have remained poor and have yet to own their land.

As they reminded Filipino people and the government of the latter’s complicity to failure and for ignoring the farmers long struggle for land, farmers from the Hacienda Yulo of Laguna, one of the many huge haciendas that remains to have not been given to the farmer beneficiaries, held a four-hour march from Quezon City to Manila. They offered prayers at the historic site of the struggle for land, the Mendiola Bridge.

The farmers joining the march are attached to the Ugnayan ng Mga Nagsasariling Lokal na Organisasyon sa Kanayunan (UNORKA).

Before arriving at Mendiola, the farmers march on December 8 began from the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR), passed through the offices of government agencies supposedly responsible to uphold their welfare—the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), the Department of Agriculture (DA) and the Land Registration Authority (LRA), all in Quezon City—to remind them of their failure to ensure that their welfare is looked after.

Before they were allowed to pass through the streets of Mendiola and offers prayers at the Bridge policemen briefly blocked the farmers’ march using their patrol cars. However, the brief standoff was defused and they were allowed to proceed after Fr. Robert Reyes, a staff member of the Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC), and the farmers joining the march negotiated permission to pass to through.

Shortly after arriving at the Mendiola Bridge, Fr. Reyes and the farmers knelt on the pavement before a pushcart which had placards with “Mary’s pushcart” written on them. It was, in fact, carrying a statue of the Virgin Mary mounted at the front. The farmers offered the rosary before the watchful eyes of the riot policemen who were armed with shields and clubs.

The Mendiola Bridge has become a historic symbol of the farmer’s struggle for land reform. It is at the streets of Mendiola where the 13 farmers were killed and wounding of 39 others when the security forces opened fired at them.

As they knelt down to pray, the visibly exhausted farmers, which includes elderly, offered prayers that the farmers in Haciendas Bacan, Grande and Paraiso, which is owned by the Arroyos in Negros Occidental; and the Hacienda Yulo in Laguna, be given land without delay. They, too, prayed for the legislators to ensure that the implementation of the CARP and budget required for it is extended once it expires by this year’s end.

After they offered prayers, the marchers proceeded to the Manila Cathedral where they were met by some Catholics bishops. The Filipino Catholics marks the Feast of the Immaculate Concepcion on December 8; thus, the pushcart the marchers were pushing also was a symbol of the poverty the Filipino people suffer.

Document Type : Press Release
Document ID : AHRC-PRL-046-2008
Countries : Philippines,