The Filipino people would always remember Cory Aquino’s rise to the presidency in 1986 was the start of a new era. A new era of peace, justice and the democracy that had been deprived from them for over twenty years. Everyone got excited when Aquino became president, thinking that it was finally the Filipinos’ time. Who would’ve thought that barely a year after that the biggest travesty of justice would take place. The infamous Mendiola massacre.
Twenty-two years ago, on the 15th of January, farmers under the group Kilusang Mambubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP; ‘Peasants Movement of the Philippines) staged a rally calling for the Aquino administration’s promise of genuine agrarian reform. They properly stated their demands, including the distribution of lands to farmers for free under the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP), the Aquino administration’s most significant contribution. Present at the rally were Agrarian Reform secretary, Heherson Alvarez, along with hundreds of state security forces. There were also a number of activists from other organizations such as the Kilusang Mayo Uno (May One Movement) and the Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (New Patriotic Alliance).
Having no developments with Alvarez, the activists, on the 22nd of January, decided to march to Malacanang to speak to President Cory Aquino herself. They numbered to about 15,000 marchers. The vicinity of Malacanang was heavily guarded by security forces, armed with tear gas, water cannons and firearms.
By the time the group reached Claro M. Recto Avenue, the clash with the police began. The police line was breached and from there, all hell broke loose.
The armed security group opened fire at the demonstrators, 13 instantly died. Thirty-nine had gunshot wounds and twelve more sustained minor injuries. According to the government forces’ side, at least one protester opened fire at them first and they just retaliated. But if that was the case surely the death toll wouldn’t reach thirteen? If only one man had opened fire, why would their retaliation target scores of other demonstrators? Video footage showed how most of them were already crawling on the pavement, taking cover from the police who were still shooting at them. If the security forces were only aiming to get the alleged ‘hitman’, were they going for an overkill?
The Aquino administration were astonished by the incident, it was a huge dent on their promised perfect human rights record. The crackdown on the protesters reminded the entire nation of the Marcos times. It was very ironic for an incident to happen at that time regarding Cory Aquino’s platform of absolute democracy and freedom. It put her platform to the test. And it made the people think if she was really sincere to her promises.
The incident agitated the creation of the Citizen’s Mendiola Commission, headed by former Supreme Court justice Vicente Abad Santos, to investigate the issue. The body recommended the disarmament and the prosecution of all armed security forces during the crackdown.
Twenty-two years had passed, and still neither the commission (now defunct) nor Cory Aquino (before she had passed away) gave any clue, so much more an answer, as to who really perpetrated the cruel crackdown. Today majority of the country’s farmers are still tilling on corporate lands, many of them are being abused by their landlords as well. The promise of genuine agrarian reform turned out to be a big farce. And the true, free democracy that they thought they would finally enjoy turned out to be nothing more than a sham.