MANILA – Teresita Arjona, 58, makes sure she travels to Manila every 22nd of January to reminisce the death of her husband Danilo and 12 other martyrs of Mendiola Massacre. She said it has been 29 years and yet there is still no justice.
On January 22, peasants from Central Luzon and Southern Tagalog once again gathered to call for justice for those who were killed. Arjona was there, carrying the picture of her husband Danilo.
She vividly remembers Jan. 22, 1987, the end of their eight-day campout at the Ministry (now Department) of Agrarian Reform in Quezon City. Some 15,000 to 20,000 protesters marched from the ministry to Liwasang Bonifacio, and then after a short program, proceeded to Mendiola. Farmers are calling on President Cory Aquino to distribute the land and implement genuine agrarian reform.
When the farmers and their supporters reached Claro M. Recto, police and Marines were already blocking their way to Malacañang. The protesters were negotiating with the police, said Arjona , when suddenly a bottle was thrown at the protesters from one of the buildings around the area. “And then the police and marines started to fire their guns and everybody was running away. My husband who was in the front line was shot in the head,” said Arjona. She, on the other hand, was able run to safety.
Arjona said that when the dictatorial regime of Ferdinand Marcos was finished, and Aquino became President, she promised to implement genuine Agrarian Reform.
“The dark days of Martial Law had just ended and we had hopes that Aquino will fulfill that promise (implement genuine agrarian reform). That is why we have come and camped-out in front of MAR to call on Aquino to implement genuine Agrarian Reform as she had promised,” said Arjona.
She said the farmers led by the Leader of the Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas Jaime Tadeo had a dialogue with the Minister of Agrarian Reform Heherson Alvarez. Alvarez, for his part, told the farmers he will relay the matter to the President in a cabinet meeting on Jan. 21, 1987.
But their call was not heeded by the first Aquino Administration. The next day, Jan. 22, the farmers decided to march their way to Malacañang to air their grievances. “But the government response was violence,” Arjona lamented.
The martyrs of the Mendiola Massacre are: 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.
To investigate the massacre, Aquino set up the Citizens’ Mendiola Commission, composed of retired Supreme Court Justice Vicente Abad Santos as chairman, retired Supreme Court Justice Jose Y. Feria as member and Antonio U. Miranda.
In its report, the commission said that the KMP-led protest was not covered by any permit as required under the Public Assembly Act of 1985. The commission report also said that crowd dispersal control units of the police and the military were armed with .38 and .45 caliber handguns, and M-16 Armalites also in violation of the aforementioned law.
“It was also illegal that the security men assigned to protect the WPD, INP Field Force, the Marines and supporting military units, as well as the security officers of the police and military commanders were in civilian attire,” the report read.
The commission recommended criminal prosecution of the four unidentified, uniformed individuals, shown either on tape or in pictures, firing at the direction of the marchers. They also recommended that the officers under the Western Police District and the INP Field Force who were armed during the incident be also prosecuted under the Public Assembly Act of 1985.
They also recommended the prosecution of the marchers, for carrying deadly or offensive weapons. Peasant leader Tadeo was recommended to be charged with violation of Batas Pambansa Blg. 880 for holding the rally without a permit and for violation of Article 142, as amended, of the Revised Penal Code, or inciting to sedition.
The commission recommended that the government compensate the family of those who have died, and the wounded victims. In 1988, relatives of the victims filed a P6.5 million class suit before the Manila Regional Trial Court Branch 9 under Edilberto Sandoval but the case was later dismissed.
“That is why we should always commemorate the Mendiola massacre because up to now, no one has been prosecuted. Even the recommendation of the commission to prosecute the perpetrators was not heeded, not by the previous administrations, much less by the son of first Aquino administration.”