The Mendiola Massacre: What Happened according to Jurisprudence

Today, 22 January 2008, marks the 21st anniversary of what has been dubbed as the “Mendiola Massacre.” An entire generation may not be aware of, and many could have already forgotten, what transpired on that date. In the words of the Supreme Court: “People may have already forgotten the tragedy that transpired on January 22, 1987. It is quite ironic that then, some journalists called it a Black Thursday, as a grim reminder to the nation of the misfortune that befell twelve (12) rallyists. But for most Filipinos now, the Mendiola massacre may now just as well be a chapter in our history books. For those however, who have become widows and orphans, certainly they would not settle for just that. They seek retribution for the lives taken that will never be brought back to life again.”

The petition that reached the Supreme Court started from the suit of the heirs of the deceased, as well as those who were injured, for damages against the Republic of the Philippines. The SC affirmed the dismissal of the case on the ground that the State cannot be sued without its consent. The State cannot be held civilly liable for the deaths arising from the incident. Any liability falls on the public officials who have been found to have acted beyond the scope of their authority.

We could very well end the discussion here. However, for those who would want to know, or recall, what happened on that day, let’s proceed to present the findings using the words of the SC (slightly edited for brevity).

The massacre was the culmination of 8 days and 7 nights of encampment by members of the Kilusang Magbubukid sa Pilipinas (KMP) at the then Ministry (now Department) of Agrarian Reform (MAR) in Diliman, Quezon City. The farmers and their sympathizers presented their demands for what they called “genuine agrarian reform”. The KMP, led by its national president, Jaime Tadeo, presented their problems and demands, among which were: (a) giving lands for free to farmers; (b) zero retention of lands by landlords; and (c) stop amortizations of land payments.

The dialogue between the farmers and the MAR officials began on 15 January 1987. The two days that followed saw a marked increase in people at the encampment. It was only on 19 January 1987 that Jaime Tadeo arrived to meet with then Minister Heherson Alvarez, only to be informed that the Minister can only meet with him the following day. On 20 January 1987, Tadeo demanded that the minimum comprehensive land reform program be granted immediately. Minister Alvarez, for his part, can only promise to do his best to bring the matter to the attention of then President Aquino, during the cabinet meeting on 21 January 1987.

Tension mounted the following day. The farmers, now on their seventh day of encampment, barricaded the MAR premises and prevented the employees from going inside their offices. At around 6:30 p.m. of the same day, Minister Alvarez, in a meeting with Tadeo and his leaders, advised the latter to instead wait for the ratification of the 1987 Constitution and just allow the government to implement its comprehensive land reform program. Tadeo, however, countered by saying that he did not believe in the Constitution and that a genuine land reform cannot be realized under a landlord-controlled Congress. A heated discussion ensued between Tadeo and Minister Alvarez. This notwithstanding, Minister Alvarez suggested a negotiating panel from each side to meet again the following day.

On 22 January 1987, Tadeo’s group instead decided to march to Malacañang to air their demands. Before the march started, Tadeo talked to the press and TV media. He uttered fiery words, the most telling of which were:

“. . . inalis namin ang barikada bilang kahilingan ng ating Presidente, pero kinakailangan alisin din niya ang barikada sa Mendiola sapagkat bubutasin din namin iyon at dadanak ang dugo. . . .”

The farmers then proceeded to march to Malacañang from Quezon Memorial Circle, at 10:00 a.m. They were later joined by members of other sectoral organizations such as the Kilusang Mayo Uno (KMU), Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (BAYAN), League of Filipino Students (LFS) and Kongreso ng Pagkakaisa ng Maralitang Lungsod (KPML). At around 1:00 p.m., the marchers reached Liwasang Bonifacio where they held a brief program. It was at this point that some of the marchers entered the eastern side of the Post Office Building, and removed the steel bars surrounding the garden. Thereafter, they joined the march to Malacañang. At about 4:30 p.m., they reached C.M. Recto Avenue.

In anticipation of a civil disturbance, and acting upon reports received by the Capital Regional Command (CAPCOM) that the rallyists would proceed to Mendiola to break through the police lines and rush towards Malacañang, CAPCOM Commander General Ramon E. Montaño inspected the preparations and adequacy of the government forces to quell impending attacks. OPLAN YELLOW was put into effect. Task Force Nazareno under the command of Col. Cesar Nazareno was deployed at the vicinity of Malacañang. The civil disturbance control units of the Western Police District under Police Brigadier General Alfredo S. Lim were also activated.

Intelligence reports were also received that the KMP was heavily infiltrated by CPP/NPA elements and that an insurrection was impending. The threat seemed grave as there were also reports that San Beda College and Centro Escolar University would be forcibly occupied.

In its report, the Citizens’ Mendiola Commission (a body specifically tasked by then Pres. Corazaon Aquino to investigate the facts surrounding the incident) stated that the government anti-riot forces were assembled at Mendiola in a formation of three phalanges, in the following manner:

(1) The first line was composed of policemen from the Western Police District (WPD), carrying the standard CDC equipment (aluminum shields, truncheons and gas masks).

(2) At the second line of defense, about 10 yards behind the WPD policemen, were the elements of the Integrated National Police (INP) Field Force, also carrying the standard CDC equipment (truncheons, shields and gas masks).

(3) Forming the third line was the Marine Civil Disturbance Control Battalion, all equipped with shields, truncheons and M-16 rifles (armalites) slung at their backs. They were positioned in line formation 10 yards farther behind the INP Field Force.

At the back of the marines were four 6×6 army trucks, occupying the entire width of Mendiola street, followed immediately by two water cannons, one on each side of the street and eight fire trucks, four trucks on each side of the street. Stationed farther behind the CDC forces were the two Mobile Dispersal Teams (MDT) each composed of two tear gas grenadiers, two spotters, an assistant grenadier, a driver and the team leader.

The marchers, at around 4:30 p.m., numbered about 10,000 to 15,000. From C.M. Recto Avenue, they proceeded toward the police lines. No dialogue took place between the marchers and the anti-riot squad. It was at this moment that a clash occurred and, borrowing the words of the Commission, “pandemonium broke loose”. The Commission stated in its findings:

. . . There was an explosion followed by throwing of pillboxes, stones and bottles. Steel bars, wooden clubs and lead pipes were used against the police. The police fought back with their shields and truncheons. The police line was breached. Suddenly shots were heard. The demonstrators disengaged from the government forces and retreated towards C.M. Recto Avenue. But sporadic firing continued from the government forces.

After the firing ceased, two MDTs headed by Lt. Romeo Paquinto and Lt. Laonglaan Goce sped towards Legarda Street and lobbed tear gas at the remaining rallyist still grouped in the vicinity of Mendiola. After dispersing the crowd, the two MDTs, together with the two WPD MDTs, proceeded to Liwasang Bonifacio upon order of General Montaño to disperse the rallyists assembled thereat. Assisting the MDTs were a number of policemen from the WPD, attired in civilian clothes with white head bands, who were armed with long firearms.

After the clash, 12 marchers were officially confirmed dead, 39 were wounded by gunshots and 12 sustained minor injuries, all belonging to the group of the marchers. Of the police and military personnel, 3 sustained gunshot wounds and 20 suffered minor physical injuries such as abrasions, contusions and the like.

* Source: Republic of the Philippines, et al. vs. Sandoval, et al., G.R. No. 84607, 19 March 1993

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