I wrote this for Bulatlat.com.
The photo of the presscon was taken by my friend Jo Abaya-Santos.
It may have been 24 years ago, but for the survivors of the brutal Mendiola Massacre that left 13 farmers dead and many others hurt, the wounds still bleed.
Pedro “Tata Pido” Gonzalez was only 23-years old when the supposedly ‘revolutionary’ government of Corazon Aquino first unsheathed its sword against Filipino farmers in Mendiola. It was only his second time in Manila, but being a part-time municipal organizer of the militant youth organization Kabataang Makabayan (KM or Patriotic Youth) since 1970, he was not new to protests. He has already been helping organize fellow fisherfolk against unfair sharing practices of owners of large-scale commercial fishing enterprises. In his first rally in Manila, he stood alongside other farmers , fisherfolk and other members of progressive sectors in front of the US embassy n Roxas Boulevard to denounce Uncle Sam relentless interference in Philippine economic and political affairs.
“The police lobbed teargas canisters at us and we ran willy-nilly all over Luneta,” he said, smiling at the recollection.
When asked about his experience in Mendiola on January 22, 1987, however, he grew serious, and one could see in his eyes how the memory of what happened that day still affected him.
“I was somewhere in the back of the rally. There were so many of us, but the protest was well organized. We were tired from the three-day vigil in front of the then Ministry of Agrarian Reform, but all exhaustion vanished as we marched closer to Malacanang. We bore with us very legitimate demands, and we wanted to remind Mrs. Aquino of the promises she made to give land to the landless.”
Tata Pido said that farmers groups led by the Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP) had concrete and unassailable reasons for proceeding to Mendiola that day. In June 1986, a few months after Aquino was propelled to the presidency after the EDSA uprising that rid the country of the dictator Ferdinand Marcos, the KMP held a national council meeting to finalize an agenda on genuine agrarian reform. With this in hand, 10 of its leaders went to Malacanang where they were warmly welcomed by Pres. Aquino and executive secretary Joker Arroyo.
“The feedback from the meeting was that Mrs. Aquino was elated over the proposal. She said that the KMP’s blueprint for genuine agrarian reform was worth implementing, that it could would serve well as the cornerstone for her administration and its goals,” he said.
But by September, nothing was heard from Malacanang. No announcements were made about distributing land to the farmers, or even just the provision of immediate subsidies to help farmers in the interim. It was then that the KMP decided to hold a protest.
(KMP spokesperson Antonio ‘Ka Tonying’ Flores in a presscon said that farmers wanted to test the waters, to see how sincere the Aquino government was. The farmers went to the MAR, but then secretary Heherson Alvarez all but went into hiding. Alvarez did not show his face in the ministry for three days, and the farmers were left to speak to the employees and explain why it was that they were there – to press for action on their call for land reform. Some farmers pulled down the Philippine flag from its pedestal in front of the department building and hoisted aloft the KMP’s own red banner.)
“So we marched. Those in front were almost in Mendiola, while the rest of us including myself where still in Morayta. Word reached us that there were so many police, marines, soldiers, you name it in the area, but I didn’t feel afraid. What was there to worry about when we had already talked to Mrs. Aquino about our demands? As for our ranks, we were unarmed. We had nothing but flags, streamers, the carton plackards mounted on bamboo sticks.”
“Suddenly I heard shots. I didn’t know at first that they were gunshots, it sounded more like clapping. First it was intermittent, then soon the sound was loud and deafening. There was chaos, everyone began running away from the sound of gunfire. Men, women, children were running. Yes, there were children with us that day. I also ran, and I am a little ashamed even now to admit that I failed to help those whom I saw fall on the pavement. It was all I could do to keep from falling myself.”
Tata Pido lost his slippers as he ran, and as he reached the corner of Morayta and Espana Avenue, the traffic was at a standstill. A jeepney stopped in front of him and the driver yelled at him to jump into the vehicle.
“I was breathing hard, I was more than a little confused, but I was able to tell him that I needed to get to Divisoria where the bus terminals were. I was relieved, when I put a hand inside my pocket, to find that I still had enough money for fare.”
Back then, it cost only P2.50 to ride a bus from Quezon to Manila and vice-versa.
When he got home, he found out that what happened in Mendiola was everywhere in the news. His wife all but berated him for joining the protest where he could have lost his life. His wife was also a member of the peasant group, but in her fear , she told him to stop his political activism,
“I learned an important lesson that day: it’s important that we make sure that our wives , our partners are encouraged to develop politically.”
So now, 24 years later, Tata Pido continues to join protest rallies, demand justice for the victims of Mendiola Massacre, and to continue the peasant struggle for land. He remembers the events that led to the Massacre the same way he cannot forgot how , in 2004, he was shot nine times by members of the military and left for dead.. * The lines on his face, the way his skin has become rough with age and years of toil, are as familiar to him as the aspirations of all farmers and fisherfolk for uncompromising, genuine agrarian reform. He knows by heart the crimes the governments that followed the Marcos dictatorship committed against the Filipino people, and while they taste bitter in his mouth, he says it is what makes him remember what he is fighting for.
“Marami na akong kaibigang namatay para sa lupa. Marami na rin ang dinukot ng mga kaaway dahil ayaw nilang tumahimik sa kanilang pagigiit. Walang katiwasayan, walang pag-unlad, walang kahulugan ang buhay kung hindi ibibigay sa magsasaka ang lupa. Ano ang gagawin ng mga susunod na henerasyon kapag pumayag tayong agawin, kamkamin ng mga dayuhan ang lahat ng lupa n gating bansa? Saan sila pupunta upang mabuhay? Paano sila kakain? Masakit mang isipin, ngunit dahil sa katangiang hindi makatao ng gobyerno at ng sistemang kinapapalooban natin, maraming maraming magsasaka pa ang magbubuwis ng buhay para sa lupa.”
“Walang pinag-iba ang mga gobyernong nagdaan. Lahat sila ay nagtaksil sa mga magsasaka. Si Noynoy Aquino ay walang pinag-iba kay Gloria Arroyo. Ang tanging masasabi mo lang na pinagkaiba nila ay babae si Gloria at lalaki si Noynoy. ”#
* On May 12, 2004, Tata Pido was shot nine times by military men under the Southern Luzon Command (Solcom). He was then campaigning for a seat in the Provincial Council of Quezon