Bu-lat-lat (boo-lat-lat) verb: to search, probe, investigate, inquire; to unearth facts

Volume 2, Number 50              January 26 - February 1, 2003            Quezon City, Philippines

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Mendiola Massacre: 16 Years of Injustice

Every Jan. 22 for 16 years, Aling Letty has been religiously attending the rally at the Don Chino Roces (formerly Mendiola) Bridge to commemorate the massacre of 13 peasants. She said that going to the streets is but one form of struggle adding she understands why many others take the other option.

By Ronalyn Olea

The Jan. 22 Mendiola Massacre rally shows protesters in various images (clockwise from top left): mascots representing Macapagal-Arroyo and her military officials face a crowd of angry peasants; peasant leader Ka Paeng Mariano; Ka Letty in a fiery speech; and posters of the president being torched to ashes.   Photos by Aubrey Makilan

Mendiola Massacre happened 16 years ago.  But for Letty Arias and other relatives of the victims, the memories of that horrifying incident never cease to haunt them.

Aling Letty spoke before a rally at the foot of the Don Chino Roces (formerly Mendiola) Bridge last Jan. 22.  Her voice quivered as she recounted that afternoon exactly 16 years ago. 

Aling Letty was a member of Sanrayp, a peasant union in Magdalena, Laguna when she joined the 15,000-strong protest march to Mendiola to demand from then President Cory Aquino what have been deprived of the tillers for centuries: land.

When they reached the foot of Mendiola bridge, the anti-riot team composed of the Western Police District, Integrated National Police Field Force, two companies of Philippine Marines Civil Disturbance Control Battalion and four 6x6 army trucks and eight fire trucks blocked them.

While the negotiation between the leaders of the Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP – Peasant Movement in the Philippines) and the police officers was taking place, the anti-riot team started firing at the protesters.

Sinabuyan kami ng tear gas bago paputukan.  Nanakbo ako, walang sapatos.  Nakapikit ako habang tumatakbo, paliko-liko.  Kung saan-saan nanggagaling ang mga bala. Hanggang Liwasang Bonifacio sinundan kami” (They sprayed tear gas before shooting us.  I ran, barefoot.  My eyes were closed. Bullets were coming from everywhere.  The police followed us all the way through Liwasang Bonifacio), related Aling Letty.

Thirteen died.  Thirty-nine others had bullet wounds and 12 were injured.

Hanggang ngayon, nakakaramdam pa rin ako ng galit kapag naaalala ko.  Hanggang ngayon, wala pa ring hustisya ang pagkamatay ng pinsan ko at ng iba pang biktima” (Until now, I get angry every time I remember.  Until now, there is no justice for the death of my cousin and other victims), said Aling Letty.

Aling Letty’s cousin, Danilo Arjona, was one of the 13 peasants killed in the tragedy.

A cased filed against the police and military men involved in the massacre was dismissed by Judge Edilberto Sandoval, presiding judge of Branch 9 of the Regional Trial Court on May 31, 1988.  In August of the same year, the Supreme Court upheld the decision of the RTC because of “immunity of the government from suit.” 

Threats to life and militarization

Aling Letty said their group Pagkakaisa at Ugnayan ng mga Magsasaka sa Laguna (PUMALAG) also condemns the intensifying militarization in the countryside.   Today, 26 battalions of the Armed Forces have been deployed in Southern Tagalog.  Aling Letty observed that their province Laguna has become a laboratory of the government’s anti-insurgency campaign.

In many barangays (villages), the military obliges the local folk to attend a meeting and orients them against the New People’s Army.  Any one who refuses to attend will be considered as NPA supporters and/or members, she said.

Apat na ang pinatay sa amin.  Ako na sana ang pang-lima kundi ako naging maingat. Nasa order of battle na ako”  (Four have already been killed from our place.  I could have been the fifth if I was not careful.  I am included in the order of battle), Aling Letty confessed.

She related how her colleague Mila Belga, a member of Gabriela and Karapatan was killed last July 22, 2001.  Pinatay siya sa harap ng mga anak niya.  Biyak ang puso.  May tatlong tama ng baril” (She was shot in front of her children).   

Aling Letty also cited Phillip Lapa, a farm worker in Milagros Farm who was killed by members of Citizens Armed Force Geographical Unit (CAFGU).

“Mas matindi ang nagaganap na militarisasyon ngayon”(Militarization has become even worse), Aling Letty said.  

The continuing struggle for land

Aling Letty said that majority of the farmers are still landless. 

She cited as example the 13 peasants in Hacienda Reyes in Calauan, Laguna who were charged with theft, the 365 peasant families in Hacienda Yulo in Canlubang, Laguna who were evicted from their land.

Isa lang naman ang pangarap ng mga magsasaka: tunay na reporma sa lupa dahil ang lupa ay para sa magsasaka.  Kung mayroon kaming lupa, sa kuko lang.  Kahit sa paso, wala” (As farmers, we only have one dream: genuine land reform because the land is for the tillers.  We only have soil in our fingernails.  We do not even have a pot of soil.), said Aling Letty.

Asked whether she still have confidence with the government, she said, “Ang mga burukrata natin ay mga panginoong maylupa rin.  Tanging sa sama-samang pagkilos ng mga magsasaka at iba pang aping sektor makakamit natin ang ating mga kahilingan”  (Our bureaucrats are also big landlords.  It is only through the collective action of the farmers and other exploited sectors can we achieve our demands.)

Every Jan. 22 for 16 years, Aling Letty has been religiously attending the rally at Mendiola to commemorate the peasant massacre.  She said that going to the streets is but one form of struggle adding she understands why many others take the other option. Bulatlat.com

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