Remembering the Mendiola Massacre: 'Amid the Assault, We Were Undaunted'
by Dennis Espada Sunday, Jan. 25, 2004 at 9:35 PM
When gunfire raged and blood soaked Mendiola bridge on the afternoon of Jan. 22, 1987, killing at least 13 peasant protesters, Marianito "Itoy" Dimapilis thought he would never get out of that scene alive.
It was nearly dusk. And despite having two bullets lodged on his left foot, Marianito 'Itoy' Dimapilis managed to stand up to look around. He saw scattered sandals being picked up by street sweepers, wounded bodies lying and crying for help. Some of them were dead in cold blood.
He felt grief mixed with anger, realizing that he was a witness to a glaring display of brutality and fascism unleashed by the mercenaries of the state.
Itoy was 24 years old when the massacre occurred. As a young worker in a food and beverage factory in Cabuyao, Laguna, he was just beginning to see the realities around him from the point of view of the militant labor movement.
The Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP), a militant farmer organization, called for a massive peasant demonstration and asked the labor sector for support. For six months, then President Corazon Aquino had repeatedly ignored the KMP and its call to resolve the land problem. The rally was aimed to push the Aquino government to sit down and talk with the farmers.
One of those who gave support was Itoy's labor union. Itoy says that although he was not yet 'deep' in terms of political consciousness at the time, "walang nananaig sa akin kundi ang maiangat ang kaisipan sa pagtuklas sa mga problema at kalagayan ng bansa (I was motivated to deepen my understanding of the problems and situation in our country)."
Protesters coming from the Southern Tagalog region massed up in Pasay City, from where they marched toward the Liwasang Bonifacio (formerly Plaza Lawton) in Manila in the afternoon. A long program was held at around 4:30 p.m. punctuated by fiery speeches denouncing the newly-installed regime.
"Ang kamulatan ng mga taong naroon ay palaban talaga (the people were so militant)," Itoy vividly remembers. "Pagdating namin sa harap ng Mendiola, nag-barikada na kami, di na makadaan ang sasakyan. Yung kumand ng mga lider talagang mainit na" (When we reached Mendiola, we formed human barricades where vehicles cannot pass. The command of the leaders were so fiery).
"Di tayo titigil hanggang di natin nakakausap ang presidente. Dahil ang araw na ito ang magtutulak para mabuksan ang pag-uusap ng KMP at ng pangulo" (We will not stop until the president talk with us. We will push today the dialogue between the KMP and the president), Itoy quoted their own team leader as saying.
Itoy saw some fire trucks and hundreds of military men, armed with M16 rifles, lined up in front of them. As he and his fellow workers linked their arms and marched unfazed, he heard the gunfire. It lasted for about five to 10 minutes.
"Naghigaan kami, sa halip na padapa. Pinagti-tear gas 'yung mga tao, pinagbubuhat 'yung mga may tama ng bala at inihahagis sa van na parang baboy." (We lied down in a supine, instead of prone position. They sprayed tear gas on people, lifted those hit and threw them like pigs inside a van).
The one in front of him during the march, a farmer from Bulacan, received a bullet in his neck and dropped dead. The one on his left, a worker of Filsyn (Filipinas Synthetic Corporation, a garment factory in Santa Rosa, Laguna), was also killed, as hundred others were injured including Itoy himself.
Saved by a journalist
Fortunately for Itoy, a man who identified himself as a reporter from the newspaper People's Journal approached him and said he will help him. Military men at the time was going after protesters who retaliated by throwing stones. He was lifted and carried to safety, in a nearby pizza parlor. The journalist gave him a bunch of typewriting papers to make him appear as a student who was just there to photocopy.
The journalist then gave him first aid treatment. Afterwards, he was brought to the Philippine General Hospital where he was interviewed. In the midst of his recovery, he failed to ask for the name of the journalist who saved him.
Because of the sustained injury, Itoy was not able to work for a full year.
According to him, the victims and their families have organized themselves to call for an investigation and to file criminal charges against the perpetrators behind the Mendiola Massacre. The case even reached the office of the Sandiganbayan (anti-graft court).
"Hanggang ngayon, wala silang naigawad na katarungan sa mga biktima" (Until today, there is no justice for the victims), he said, adding that what the Aquino government did through then human rights lawyer Haidee Yorac was merely to give a small financial compensation for the injured individuals and the families of those who died during the rampage. Until now, the suspected mastermind and perpetrators of the massacre, mostly top military and police officials, are living scot-free and unpunished for their crimes.
After serving as a labor union activist for more than a decade, Itoy became a jeepney driver and, later, joined STARTER (Southern Tagalog Association of Transport Organizations).
Through that experience, though tragic, Itoy learned to deepen his political understanding and embrace the principles he used to hear only during discussions. He has accepted that what happened was an inevitable consequence of any struggle for justice.
"Sa kabila ng nangyari sa 'kin, halos walang araw o gabi na di ako sumama sa mga pagkilos" (Despite what happened, there is no single day or night of action that I missed). he added.