November 29, 2015     Philippines
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January 15, 2010
Benjie Oliveros | Land, Justice and the Peasantry

Majority of victims of human-rights violations in the Philippines are peasants. They are the ones most denied not just land but justice. So any candidate for president who claims to be for justice should, first and foremost, commit to the implementation of a genuine agrarian-reform program. This is why the Hacienda Luisita land problem is a defining issue for Noynoy Aquino.


MANILA — Jan. 22, 2010, would mark the 23rd anniversary of the Mendiola massacre. On that fateful day, thousands of farmers marched to Mendiola to demand for land reform and were mowed down by gunfire from soldiers from the Philippine Marines and the police. Yet, more than two decades later, those responsible were never held accountable and peasants continue to be denied the land they till. This is the kind of injustice that peasants continue to suffer from.

The struggle of peasants for land is stained with blood. The Hacienda Luisita massacre is another example. The farmers and farm workers of Hacienda Luisita were attacked and fired upon on Nov. 16, 2004, even as they were merely manning their picketline. The massacre had just marked its fifth year in November 2009. But the perpetrators remain scot-free and the farmers and farm workers continue to fight for their land. They have been tilling part of the hacienda for their own benefit only because of their persistent assertions and a favorable ruling from the Department of Agrarian Reform. However, the Cojuangco family, the Aquinos included, secured a restraining order from the Supreme Court. The Cojuangco family has no intention of turning over the land to the tillers and the struggle of the farmers and farm workers continues.

Records of Karapatan show that majority of victims of human-rights violations are peasants, and this has been a historical fact. It is not only because majority of the Filipino people are peasants. It is because it is the peasants who are being denied the land they till; they are the ones being displaced by landlords, by local and foreign big businesses, by mining and logging corporations, and by military operations.

Warlordism and private armies are not new phenomena. It is a result of the country’s feudal backwardness. For as long as the country remains agrarian, pre-industrial, land is the most important resource to be monopolized by the few, powerful families, who are descendants and favored subjects of Spanish and American colonizers. And for as long as land is monopolized by a few families and corporations, private armies, as well as paramilitary groups, would be maintained to “protect” the land from the multitude of landless peasants. The land is being “protected” through force by private armies and paramilitary groups, and when all else fails, by the armed forces. That is why peasants who claim the land they till are immediately mowed down by gunfire.

The agrarian-reform programs and laws by different administrations — Diosdado Macapagal’s Land Reform Code, Presidential Decree 27 of Ferdinand E. Marcos, Cory Aquino’s Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Law — failed because these were fraught with limitations and loopholes. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program Extension with Reforms (CARPer) is also bound to fail. It is merely an extension of Aquino’s agrarian-reform program, which failed to even make a dent in the problem of landlessness despite its 22 years of implementation.

So any candidate for president who claims to be for justice should, first and foremost, commit to the implementation of a genuine agrarian reform program — a program that would genuinely give the land to the tillers for free, as they have been denied the fruits of their labor for centuries. This is why the Hacienda Luisita land problem is a defining issue for Sen. Noynoy Aquino.

A candidate who genuinely takes the interests of the Filipino people at heart should also commit to the pursuit of justice for victims of human-rights violations. For as long as the rights of majority of the Filipino people are being attacked with impunity, there could be no justice in this country. Only a presidential candidate who commits to give land to the tillers and justice to victims of human-rights violations, as well as protect the sovereignty of the nation, could claim that he genuinely represents the interest of majority of the Filipino people. If no presidential candidate could commit to such a program, the election would remain a contest among the ruling elite for who gets the lion’s share of the nation’s coffers. (

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