DAVAO CITY – A farmer’s group said they are among what Pope Francis referred to as the poor in peripheries in the Philippines that the Church should help.

“Farmers are one of the poorest and most oppressed in our country’s history. Since the Spanish conquest until now, we still don’t have our own lands to till,” said Lito Lao, vice-chairperson of the peasant group Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP) in an interview after a protest march to commemorate the 28th year of the Mendiola Massacre.

Farmers marched in the streets of Davao City Thursday to demand justice for victims of the 1987 Mendiola Massacre wherein 13 protesting farmers were killed in Mendiola, Manila.

Lao said the Mendiola march was a nationwide activity attended even by farmer-leaders from Mindanao to demand from then President Corazon Aquino her promises of a genuine land reform.

Back then he was already a peasant leader and remembered another regional leader named Ka Mimong who was in the same group that marched to Mendiola, considered the doorstep to Malacanang.

“He was one of those who luckily dodge the bullets, but he was there,” said Lao.

None of the suspects charged in the massacre were prosecuted, which include the commanders of police and Army units assigned to secure the area around Mendiola.

In this year’s commemoration, farmers in Manila stormed the residence of President Benigno Aquino III, the son of former Pres. Corazon Aquino, to demand justice.

Press Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr., in news reports said that the current administration should not “be made responsible for it.”

Coloma said that the incident was now with the judiciary and added that “even Cory Aquino’s administration was saddened by the loss of lives and did not want anyone killed in the middle of expressing their demands.”

Lao said that hundreds of farmers, including their leaders were “systemically killed” since then as succeeding administrations implemented their insurgency plans.

“In fact the current administration is worse. In just five years of Noynoy Aquino’s presidency, 33 leaders were already killed,” said Lao.

He said, “farmers are at the forefront of the struggle against the entry of foreign mining and plantations and that is why they become targets of state forces.”

“Farmers are always accused of being members of the New People’s Army so killing them can be legitimized,” he said.

Lao said the latest incidents against farmers happen in the province of Compostela Valley where mining companies “are aggressively using the Army, funding them to drive away farmers and indigenous peoples and act as company guards.”

Members of the Hugpong sa mga Mag-uuma sa Mabini (United Farmers of Mabini) allege that an Australian mining firm is “funding the combat and intelligence operations of the Army’s 71st Infantry Battalion to hasten its mining exploration.”

“Amid the threats to the poor and the integrity of creation, we hope that the Church involvement be renewed,” he said.

“The church’s involvement was very strong during the Martial Law years but it waned because I think they fear for their lives,” he said.(davaotoday.com)

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