EDITOR’S NOTE: Jaime “Ka Jimmy” Tadeo, farmer organizer and delegate to the 1986 constitutional convention, died on March 26, 2023. He was 84.
(Second of two parts)
It was decided that the Alyansa ng Magbubukid sa Gitnang Luzon (AMGL, Alliance of Farmers in Central Luzon) would spearhead a march from Meycauayan, Bulacan, just outside Metro Manila to the Ministry of Agriculture and Food in Quezon City on Feb. 5, 1985.
The night before, farmers from five Central Luzon provinces began arriving in Meycauayan. The march that began at 8 a.m. with an estimated 6,000 farmers and their supporters reached the ministry’s office at 3:45 p.m., with 1,000 more joining in when they reached Manila.
Surprisingly, Minister Salvador Escudero was there to meet them along with representatives of the Ministry of Agrarian Reform, National Irrigation Administration and Fertilizer and Pesticide Authority. A stock answer was given the farmers: “Granting your demands entails massive government expenditures. There simply are no funds available.”
The farmers’ response was to set up tents and makeshift shelters in front of the building and announce that they would stay until their demands were satisfactorily met. The “Kampo ng Bayan” (People’s Camp) was in progress.
Learning the ropes
The camp served as a school for learning how to collectively confront state power in a militant, peaceful, and sustained manner.
Jaime “Ka Jimmy” Tadeo spoke of a tactic they learned to develop: “Here, we learned to struggle. We also learned not to wait; that we have to keep on moving … advancing. Every day, morning and afternoon, we try to enter the building. Of course, they always close the doors in our faces, but some of us always manage to get in. We talk to ministry officials, emphasizing the urgency of our demands.”
Especially heartening for the peasants was the public support they received. They had earmarked funds to last them only till the 8th but given the intransigence of the ministry, they realized they may have to stay longer.
Said Tadeo: “How did we eat? How did we live? We set up collection boxes along the roadside and asked passersby and motorists for donations. Collections averaged about P25,000 a day. We issued calls over the radio through sympathetic announcers. Whatever we asked for, it would come—food, vegetables, money, medicines, anything! Volunteer medical teams also came and looked into our health and sanitation needs.”
At any one time, an average of 1,000 people stayed in the camp. Teach-ins and impromptu lecture-forums were continually held. Opposition-controlled newspapers, foreign correspondents, and sympathetic radio stations gave the farmers more than adequate media coverage.
In short, the peasants were becoming an embarrassment to a regime that prided itself in “emancipating them from bondage to the soil.”
All this time, the government officials kept stalling, unable to decide what to do. The final answer to the peasants’ demands came in the early morning of Feb. 13, 1985, when a group led by Tadeo was doing calisthenics while most of their companions slept.
“I looked at my watch—it was exactly 6:29,” recalled Tadeo. “Colonel San Diego and Colonel Dawis approached us: ‘Jimmy, when will you leave?’ I said: ‘We will hold a press conference. Please attend and you will know then.’ Suddenly, from nowhere, I saw three firetrucks and about 100 antiriot policemen. Gen. Alfredo Lim was with them. The words ‘Why, General?” had barely escaped my mouth when the firetrucks started hosing everyone and everything down. The police started beating up people (men and women) with their rattan sticks, kicking them, and tearing down the tents. The general pointed at me: ‘There’s Jimmy. Arrest him!’ Two plainclothesmen held me by the seat of my pants and pushed me into a waiting private jeep.”
The peasants and their supporters were chased by the antiriot squad all the way to the campus of the University of the Philippines more than three kilometers away, where they took refuge in the Catholic chapel.
After Tadeo’s release a day later, the farmers returned to the ministry to hold a protest rally. On Feb. 16, they marched 15 kilometers from the UP campus to Plaza Bonifacio in Manila to reiterate their demands and their determination to pursue their struggle.
The peasant movement would reap the political gains from the People’s Camp in the coming months.
In August 1984, a National Consultative Assembly of Peasant Organizations was convened; it called for the consolidation of existing provincial and regional organizations into one federation. Eleven organizations from Mindanao, the Visayas, and Luzon regions attended.
In October 1984, the 12th anniversary of Ferdinand Marcos Sr.’s land reform program, a “national day of protest and struggle was declared.”
But as Tadeo put it, the People’s. Camp was “the trigger that eventually led to the formation” of the Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP, Philippine Peasant Movement).
The founding congress of KMP was held on July 24-27, 1985, at Claret School in Quezon City. Tadeo was unanimously elected national chair and another AMGL leader, Rafael Mariano from Nueva Ecija, was chosen secretary general. Capping the occasion was a 3,000-strong march and rally in Plaza Miranda where the organization was formally introduced to the public.
In its “statement of principles,” the KMP pledged to uphold:
- “A democratic movement that will unequivocally and without any pretensions give life to the democratic and political rights of the peasantry.
- “A nationalist movement that aims to end foreign exploitation of agriculture and of the entire country’s economy and politics and seeks to establish a genuine pro-peasant development program geared towards a free and prosperous society.
- “A peasant movement that primarily serves the immediate and long-term interests of poor and middle peasants and farm workers, and relies on our own efforts in solidarity with all oppressed classes and sectors in the urban and rural areas for the benefit of the people.
- “A peasant organization bound together and developed through conscious advocacy and personal initiative of its members, utilizes democratic and critical methods, and is guided by shining lessons gleaned from the past.”
Some of the peasant and rural worker organizations represented in the congress were:
From Luzon: AMGL; Assembly of Peasant Organizations Against Poverty (Kasamak Pangasinan-Zambales); Peasant Alliance of Bataan (Alma-Ba); Quezon Farmers’ Association; Union of Peasant Organizations of Rizal, Infanta, Nakar (Kasama-Rin); and 15 others.
From the Visayas: Alliance of Samar Peasant Organizations (Alsa-Masa); Small Farmers Association in Negros (SFAN); Organization of Bohol Peasants (Humabol); and 5 others.
From Mindanao: United Farmers of Surigao Norte (Namasun); Davao Farmers Association; United Farmers of Zamboanga del Norte (Nasanag); Sultan Kudarat Farmers Association (Sukufa); and 9 others.
The October 1985 actions
The KMP planned to organize a series of mass actions in October 1985 to coincide with the 13th anniversary of the Marcos land reform program. Billed as the “Kampanya ng Magbubukid Laban as Kahirapan at Kagutuman” (Peasants’ Campaign Against Poverty and Hunger), six new demands were drawn up:
“Lower rice prices without increasing palay prices; lower prices of fertilizers and pesticides; lower loan interest rates to 15%; scrap the Agricultural Investment and Development Incentives Act; implement genuine land reform; and stop the militarization of the countryside.”
On Oct. 3, 300 farmers brought these demands to Escudero, who merely acknowledged receipt of the petition. Calling the agriculture minister “impotent,” the KMP decided to take its petition to then Prime Minister Cesar Virata at his office, the Executive House, on Oct. 10. This was followed by a 3,000-strong march-rally at the same place on Oct. 17.
Again, the peasants left empty-handed.
The highlight of the monthlong campaign was another long march on Oct. 20 from Meycauayan, that would culminate the next day in a rally at Malacañang. This would be Oct. 21, 1985—13 years to the day Marcos signed his “Tenants’ Emancipation Decree.”
Despite reports that the military would disrupt the farmers’ mass action by preventing their entry into Metro Manila, infiltrating the group with agents-provocateurs, and arresting KMP leaders, the peasants went on with their plans.
As expected, the 5,000 marchers were harassed along the way. In the first town they entered in Metro Manila, they caught two agent-provocateurs who pointed to the local police commander as their superior officer. At the entrance to Manila proper, firetrucks and antiriot squads met them. After negotiating with the police officers, they were allowed to continue but were expressly warned not to proceed to Malacañang.
The marchers spent the night of Oct. 20 at the Agri-Fina Circle. Early the next morning, they marched to the US Embassy where they held a short rally. Then they began to make their way to Plaza Bonifacio where an afternoon rally was to be held before they proceeded to Malacañang. Of course, since the Palace was ringed by a military cordon complete with barbed-wire fences, tanks, firetrucks, and Army and Marine troops, the closest they would get was the foot of Mendiola Bridge two kilometers away from the Palace gates.
As it turned out, the peasants and their supporters would not even reach Plaza Bonifacio.
At the corner of Taft and Ayala, the march was broken up by members of the Western Police District (WPD) on the pretext of disarming some alleged rallyists. Pandemonium broke loose and the police opened fire at the marchers. The antiriot squads moved in, swinging their truncheons. Two students from an agricultural college in Central Luzon were killed and 14 others were injured. The peasants fought back by stoning a patrol car and a government-owned public transport bus.
The violent dispersal had its desired effect. Informed that an even more formidable military contingent awaited them at Mendiola Bridge, the rally leaders called off the march to Malacañang and dispersed their members.
On Oct. 27, an indignation rally was held in front of the WPD headquarters.
Tadeo said that, like the People’s Camp in February, the Oct. 21 incident also provided the KMP with more opportunities to expand its membership. KMP chapters sprouted all over the country. By the end of 1985, the organization was claiming a total nationwide membership of 500,000 peasants and rural workers and a mass base of 1.5 million.
Without doubt, the resurgence of the peasant mass movement in the 1980s was due to the untiring efforts of organizations like the AMGL and leaders like Jaime Tadeo. The KMP was primed to inherit the mantle of leadership of the radical agrarian movement which prewar organizations such as the KPMP (National Union of Peasants) and AMT (League of Poor Laborers) and postwar groups like the PKM (National Peasants Union) and Masaka (Free Union of Peasants) once held.
This article is excerpted with some revisions from Eduardo C. Tadem. 1986. “Grains and Radicalism: The Political Economy of the Rice Industry in the Philippines: 1965-1985,” Commodity Series No. 5, UP Third World Studies Center. Also published as “Rice, Farmers, and Politics in the Philippines, 1965-1985” in Peter Wallensteen (ed.), 1988. Food Development and Conflict: Thailand and the Philippines. Uppsala University. – Ed.