Untold stories of Aquino human-rights violation

column-Cecilio T. Arillo-DATABASEPart Three

Mendiola Massacre: A message written in blood

IT was only 1987, or a few months after the Edsa revolution, that members of the Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP) started a vigil at the then-Ministry of Agrarian Reform (MAR) to press demands for agrarian reform. They set up crude tents, clearly intending to stay until their demands were heard. Soon, they were preventing MAR employees from getting in and out of the compound.

On January 19, 1987, KMP leader Jaime Tadeo, a member of the Constitutional Commission who had refused to sign the new Constitution that would be submitted to the people for ratification that February, arrived to seek an audience with then-Agrarian Reform Minister Heherson T. Alvarez. Tadeo was, however, told that Alvarez would be available the next day, yet. When the dialog pushed through the next day, all Alvarez could promise was that the KMP’s demands would be brought to President Cory Aquino’s attention. The following evening, Alvarez advised Tadeo to just wait for the ratification of the 1987 Constitution and for the government to implement the charter’s provisions on agrarian reform.

But Tadeo had already rejected the Constitution, believing that Congress would be dominated once more by landlords and oligarchs who were certain to oppose any radical agrarian-reform changes.

On January 22, 1987, the KMP-led protesting farmers left the MAR compound to march to Malacañang Palace. Along the way, they were joined by other leftist organizations: the proletarian Kilusang Mayo Uno (KMU), the Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan), the League of Filipino Students (LFS) and the urban-poor organization Kongreso ng Pagkakaisa ng Maralitang Lungsod (KPML). By the time they got near the Mendiola Bridge late in the afternoon, they were 15,000 strong.

Waiting for them were units of the Philippine Constabulary, the police and the Philippine Marines, under the overall command of Major General Ramon E. Montaño, chief of the Constabulary-Integrated National Police’s Capital Command, and task force commander Col. Cesar Nazareno (whom President Aquino would later name director general of the National Police).

According to the Citizen’s Mendiola Commission (as cited by the Supreme Court on March 19, 1993), the body created to determine the facts of that day’s bloody events, violence just broke out spontaneously as the protestors and law enforcers face off even before a dialog could be arranged. There was an explosion and then came empty bottles and rocks hurtling through the air.

As the marchers breached the police lines, gunshots rang out, prompting the activists to disperse and run toward Claro M. Recto Avenue. But the gunshots continued, as the government forces pursued protesters, all the way to Liwasang Bonifacio on the other side of the Pasig River.

After the smoke had cleared, 12 marchers lay dead. Sixty-two others were wounded, 12 of whom fortunately sustained only minor injuries. Several of the wounded subsequently succumbed to their wounds (thus, accounts vary as to the number of fatalities, from 12 to 17 to 19).

The protesters sued the Aquino administration and the military officers involved in the dispersal operation before Branch 9 of the Regional Trial Court in Manila. On May 31, 1988, Judge Edilberto G. Sandoval held that inasmuch as the impleaded military officers had been charged in their “personal and official capacity,” the government could not be held financially liable by the complainants. The lawsuit against the government failed to prosper because the state invoked its immunity, thus: “they may not be sued without its consent” clause of the Constitution (Article XVI, Section 3).

The Mendiola Massacre also led to the dissolution of the Presidential Commission on Human Rights (PCHR) following the resignation of most of its members, led by former Sen. Jose W. Diokno (one of Ninoy’s most-admired political leaders).

The PCHR commissioners resigned in protest over the referral of the investigation of the Mendiola Massacre to a new body, the Citizens’ Mendiola Commission. They felt that the PCHR was not only stripped of its jurisdiction; the seeming loss of confidence in the PCHR had also irreparably damaged its credibility.

The 1988 decision was again upheld by the Supreme Court in 1993, affirming that the government has immunity from suit. Now, with the installation of another Aquino as president, the victims’ families, as well as the survivors, live to continuously seek the elusive justice.

In 2011 several farmer groups and families sought to revive the decades-old case before Justice Secretary Leila de Lima. The second Aquino president, however, seems content with the case resting in the dust. His then-Presidential Communications Development and Strategic Planning Office Head Ramon Carandang, sharing his boss’s disinterest to resurrect the case, said: [We] cannot keep revisiting issues over and over again.”

The Mendiola Massacre was a message written in blood that the peasants cannot intimidate the Aquino administration. President Cory Aquino faced a credibility crisis: To many, the sincerity of her agrarian- reform program, in the wake of the Mendiola Massacre, depended on the fate of Hacienda Luisita.

The nationalist Renato Constantino wrote of Aquino in June 1987:  “She dangled the probability of a sweeping land reform, but has not taken concrete steps to show how this would apply to her family’s
Hacienda Luisita.” 

To be continued

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