By FRANCINE MEDINA
Dark clouds hung over the streets of Mendiola and Legarda while the cool breeze blew its way through the assemblage of peasants last Thursday, January 22. About 7,000 farmers and some 8,000 multi-sectoral supporters arrived at the historic Mendiola bridge early in the afternoon and were barred from proceeding to Malacañang Palace. They wanted a dialogue with the President.
At 5 p.m., the crowd was dispersed by the police and a marine contingent using automatic rifles, which resulted in the death of 13 people, while another 50 sustained injuries ranging from teargas suffocation, truncheon blows, and gunshot wound. Newspapers headlines that harrowing incident as the most violent dispersal of rallyists bloodier than the first Mendiola encounter in the Marcos regime.
Commissioner Jaime Tadeo, the lone peasant representative to the Constitutional Commission, disclosed during the peasant rally that it was not the first such march since the President was installed into office. Previous requests for a dialogue on the land reform through assemblies at the palace have been to no avail.
To be sure, provisions on the 1986 draft Constitution authorizes the state to implement a land reform program. The basic right of landless farmworkers to own directly or collectively the lands they are tilling shall be the basis of such a program. On the other hand, farmworkers shall receive a just share in “the fruits of the labor.” The provisions of Sections 4 to 6 on agrarian reforms apply to all agricultural lands, regardless of their crops.
Landlords, however, can retain reasonable portions of their land through a scheme that shall be devised by the legislature.
Peasant organizations such as the Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP) continued to press for a genuine land reform program. In its statement last January 15, KMP criticized the Aquino administration for deceiving the public through a “fake” land reform program reminiscent of the Marcos regime.
As it turned out, Agrarian reforms Minister Heherson Alvarez has been distributing Emancipation Patents (EP) to farmers recently. These Eps are land titles for the peasants. The KMP, however, saw the EP distribution as a gimmick for the coming plebiscite. For most peasants, it was nothing but Marcos’s own Presidential Decree (PD) 27.
PD 27, under the implementation of Operation Land Transfer (OLT), provided the transfer of ownership of tenanted rice and corn lands at a set entitlement. For each tenant, three hectares of irrigated land and five hectares of unirrigated land shall be provided while a retention limit of seven hectares to the landlords shall be granted. Under the OLT, beneficiaries had to pay a fixed amortization on land cost which is usually 2.5 times more than the average normal harvest of three crop years with a six-percent subsidized interest per annum for 15 years. The EP, working under a similar mechanism, has been described by many peasants as another spade that will only bury them in debt.
Notwithstanding the prohibitive costs of such a program are the other costs which the peasants have to face. Ka Fred Mañaol, chairman of the Alyansa ng mga Magbubukid ng Bulacan (AMB), cited their experience in the area. “Ang inaani ng mga magsasaka ngayon ay nananatiling mababa. Ibig sabihin, binibili ng trader nang mababa ang kanilang ani. Sa nagyon, halimbawa, ay umaabot lamang ng P2 hanggang P2.50 ang bawat kilo samantalang ang gobyerno ay may P3.50 na support price. Subalit ayon na rin sa National Food Authority (NFA), may 5.4 porsyento laman ng buong ani ang kanilang maaaring mabili kung kaya ang aming produkto ay bumabagsak sa mga traders. Mura kung sila’y bumibili kaya din naman kailangan pa naming umutang sa mga usurero para sa aming gastos sa produksyon. Karaniwan, sa halagang isang bag ng fertilizer ay kailangang bayaran namin ito ng tatlong kabang palay.”
“Sa ganitong kalagayan ng mga magsasaka na may kawalang kasiguruhan sa kanilang produkto at kamahalang gastos sa kanilang produksyon, unti-unting nakikita ng mga amgsasaka kung ano ang dapat nilang gawin sa kanilang problema,” explains Ka Daning Ramos, another AMB member.
“At matapos nilang makita kung ano ang dapat na gawin, na sila ay magsama-sama para baguhin ang sistema, ang nagyayari diro kapag ipinanawagan na nila ang kanilang mga kahilingan at karapatan ay pinapangalanan na silang subersibo o rebelde,” he added.
Ka Daning also added that most of the time, those who belonged to progressive peasant organizations such as the AMB were either tortured or killed. Other farmers, however, simply became innocent victims.
As the plebiscite comes nearer and nearer, the peasant sector has undoubtedly long recognized where it stands.
“Sa panig ng land reform, ang isinusulong ng nationalist bloc ay supremacy. Ibig sabihin ang pagpapatupad ng reporma sa lupa ay pagtibayin ng ConCom, at para pagdating sa pagpo-proseso ay iimplementahan na agad. Huwag nang gumawa ng batas na maraming rikotitos, na maraming butas. Ngayon, ang ginagawa nina Christian Monsod—ang panig ng mga konserbatibo—ay sa halip na ‘supremacy’, ay gamitin na lang ang termino na ‘right.’ Ibig sabihin ng ‘right’ ay karapatan, di ba? Kung karapatan ng magsasaka na ariin ang kanilang lupang sinasaka, karapatan din daw ng isang panginoong maylupa na kung ano lamang ang gustong ipagkaloob niya ay iyon lang,” Ka Fred answers.
[Editor’s note: Some parts of the original paragraph were unreadable in the digital copy of this article. The publication tried to the best of its ability to get the gist of Ka Fred’s quote, and reconstruct it according to his organization’s stance on land reform.]
“Ang gusto nami’y isang demokratikong konstitusyon,” he explains. “Ibig sabihin ay iyung talagang naglilingkod sa sambayanan, lalo pa sa panig ng ating magsasaka na 70 porsyento ng ating populasyon. Kaya samakatuwid, kung ito ang pinakamaraming bahagi ng populasyon sa ating bansa, kailangan mabigyan ang katarungang demokratiko diyan. Ang tinatawag na tunay na reporma sa lupa ay iyong ipamahagi sa mga magsasaka nang libre ang kanilang lupang sinasaka. At hanggang walang tinay na reporma sa lupa, hindi tayo magkakaroon ng tunay na pambansang kaunlaran.”
Meanwhile, the KMP is also negotiating its own proposals on the issue. Its immediate demands include the expropriation of lands acquired by Marcos cronies, bureaucrat-capitalists and local/military warlords through fraudulent means and subject these lands to land reform. Second, invalidate the amortization land transfer under PD 27 and declare the lands as rightfully owned by the farmer/cultivator and declare payments duly completed. Third, expropriation of private agricultural lands which have been closed by large banks. Fourth, confiscate abandoned and uncultivated agricultural lands and distribute these free to the peasants.
KMP also seeks the recognition of the inherent right of tribal communities over their ancestral lands. In addition, their minimum program also recognized the legitimate rights of settlers to the lands they till.
The automatic rifle-fire at Mendiola had ceased. At the Mt. Carmel Chapel where the bodies of the dead are placed, peasant women and children weep. The month of harvest is fast drawing near. But it will not only be of scant palay grains. The bloodbath at Mendiola is enough to sow more disquieted days. ●
This article was originally published on January 26, 1987.
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