The demonstrators marched towards the Malacanang presidential palace to demand President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo's ouster seven years after she was propelled to the top post by a military-backed mass uprising. They accused Arroyo of massive corruption, human rights abuses and failure to uplift the lives of the country's impoverished millions.
The bulk of the protesters were farmers who marched to Manila from nearby provinces. The group of several thousand farmers, activists and supporters left the Quezon Memorial Circle before dawn and set off for the small bridge in Manila near Malacanang Palace where 21 years ago, 13 peasants and activists were killed in what is now known as the Mendiola massacre (see collage pictured here).
The group was allowed to carry out its protest at a small school instead of on the bridge after thousands of "unarmed" Manila police backed by elite SWAT teams and riot police on stand-by refused to allow them access to it.
Farmers and militants said the event should be "considered a success, as more important than getting to the bridge, the message for genuine agrarian reform echoes clear and across the globe, people remembered the tragic events of 21 years ago."
Also, Inquirer.net reports hundreds of farmers in Iloilo, Cebu and Davao held protest actions on Tuesday to mark the 21st anniversary of the Mendiola massacre, in which 13 people were killed when security forces opened fire at protesters marching to Malacañang to demand agrarian reform.
In Iloilo City, protesters led by the Paghugpong sang mga Mangunguma sa Panay kag Guimaras (Pamanggas, United Farmers of Panay and Guimaras) marched along the main streets before holding a rally at the grounds of the Iloilo provincial capitol.
In Cebu, around 600 farmers and fishermen marched from Minglanilla town to Cebu City calling for genuine agrarian reform.
In Davao City, hundreds of farmers staged a rally in front of the Department of Agrarian Reform office.
Speakers at the Iloilo City protest took turns denouncing the government's Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP), which they said failed to address the farmers' clamor for land and government support to boost production.
What follows is from the Manila Bulletin.
Farmers end march to Mendiola
Around 800 peasants from Southern Tagalog (Region 4) ended yesterday their week-long march to Mendiola in Manila to commemorate the 21st anniversary of the "Mendiola Massacre" where 13 peasants were killed, seven of them from Laguna, in 1987.
The protesters, led by Katipunan ng mga Samahang Magbubukid sa Timog Katagalugan (KasamaTK), said they will continue the struggle for land that was the battlecry of peasants during the Mendiola Massacre.
"We remember the martyrs of the Mendiola massacre by giving them the highest tribute. They inspire us to be steadfast in our struggle for land despite threats and harassment from a fascist government," Orly Marcellana, secretary-general of Kasama-TK, said.
The peasants started their protest march on Jan. 16 in Nasugbu, Batangas. The peasants were able to pass through police blockades at the boundary of Alfonso and Tagaytay and at Pala-pala, Dasmariñas, Cavite.
Police also blocked the protesters at the boundary of Bacoor, Cavite, and Zapote, preventing two contingents from converging. The protesters endured rain and 10 hours of the blockade which lasted until 12 midnight before police allowed the protesters to converge.
The protesters exposed the continued landlessness of peasants under the "bogus" Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program. They called on communities they passed to support the Genuine Agrarian Reform Bill (House Bill 3059) filed by Rep. Crispin Beltran of Anakpawis.
The Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) yesterday vowed to finally work in earnest to improve tenure or leasehold arrangements for farmers and better conditions for farm workers on lands covered by the CARP that have not been acquired by the department.
Agrarian Reform Secretary Nasser C. Pangandaman said that under the Land Tenure Improvement Program (LTIP), the new arrangements and conditions are aimed at improving the living conditions of the farmers and farm workers under fair arrangements with the landowners.
Pangandaman’s action was not applauded by thousands of farmers who had earlier picketed the DAR office in Quezon City and expressed indignation at the failure of the department to implement the CARP in large estates in Laguna, Quezon, Batangas, and Negros Occidental, especially in Hacienda Bacan, which is owned by the family of the First Gentleman, Atty. Jose Miguel "Mike" T. Arroyo, the President’s husband.
Members of the Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP) claimed that land conversions, chronic absence of support services, and the run-down conditions of irrigation systems, along with farm-to-market roads that have not been built, all conspired to condemn peasants and farm workers to miserable lives.
Militant farmers want CARP to be scrapped and in its place a new scheme must be implemented that would distribute land to landless peasants for free, with government absorbing the cost, arguing that tenants had long paid their landowners through unequal sharing of produce and exploitative relations that force them to provide unpaid labor to landlords.
KMP claimed that up to 80 percent of peasants in Southern Luzon and other regions have not been covered by CARP and in many areas under the program, up to 35 percent of farmers had to sell their land or have them foreclosed by banks since they could pay amortizations.