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From the Archives: Accounts from bloody Mendiola

The farmers cried “land!”

They were answered with bullets.

Last Jan. 22, peasant demonstrators belonging to the Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP) ended their week-long agrarian reform campaign, in death and agony. Marching towards Malacañang, where they intended to present their demands, the 10-000 strong demonstrators tried but failed when their attempt to break through the ranks of police and military crowd control units massed at the foot of Mendiola, was met with successive bursts of gunfire. Pandemonium ensued an in several minutes, it was all over. At least 18 demonstrators have been reported dead and several others remain in critical condition in the single bloodiest day of protests under President Aquino’s rule. Suddenly, it was Escalante all over again.

The LaSallian is carrying the accounts of two photojournalists—Malaya’s Manolet Agoncillo and Mon Acasio—who witnessed last week’s bloody demonstration. Their accounts:

Mon Acasio

As soon as I saw the farmers led by KMP chairman Jimmy Tadeo marching towards Mendiola, I ran towards them to take pictures of the frontliners.

Finishing that chore, I went back to the police ranks so I could take shots of both sides in an eyeball-to-eyeball situation.

As the farmers pressed against the ranks of the police, the police shoved back using their metal shields. The photographers, myself included, were caught in the middle. I ducked out of there and went behind the police ranks hoping for a better angle.

I took photos with both hands raised way over my head, since I could not do it in the normal position.

Suddenly a burst of gunfire rang out from nowhere, the policeman broke ranks and scampered for safety as did the farmers who dropped to the ground.

The first burst of gunfire was soon followed by more. I saw many policemen pull out their service pistols and started shooting towards the marchers who were all face down on the ground except for a few defiant ones.

A volley of teargas canisters flew through the air and the farmers retaliated by throwing rocks, bottles, and anything they could get their hands on.

I ran for safety because I was right in the middle of the crossfire. But as soon as I took cover, I saw a man in khaki over-all uniform firing his M-16 point-blank into the farmers.

I tried to get a photograph of the fleeing marchers but all I could think about was all those dead bodies lying there. I was thinking, “Is this really happening?”

I saw a man with his brains blown out; I saw another bathing in a pool of his own blood. I saw other photographers taking pictures of the wounded. I did the same. But the police shouted at us to get out of there, and as we did, the shooting started again. I swear I saw a streak of yellow fire brush past my left arm.

When the carnage finally stopped, we started to carry the wounded to the vehicles that would take them to the hospital; the People’s Journal jeep, the Channel 13 service van, and two owner-type jeeps of the police.

When all the dead and wounded were loaded, all that remained where the T-shirts, rubber shows, and bags they left behind on the bloody pavement of Mendiola.

Manolet Agoncillo

It was around 4:30 p.m., I was atop the roof of a military six-by-six truck right smack in the middle of the Mendiola bridge to get a better angle for a crowd shot.

All around there were anti-riot policemen already barricading the stretch of the bridge. A group of armalite-toting marine soldiers in camouflage uniforms were beginning to mass behind the first phalanx of anti-riot police bearing shields.

Then I saw the marchers cross the intersection of Legarda and Recto and proceed without hesitation to meet the waiting police-military
forces blocking their way towards Malacañang.

As I peered through the viewfinder of my Nikon, I noticed a slight commotion directly in front of the Corona Supply Bookstore.

Jimmy Tadeo along with some farmers were being pushed by some policemen led by Col. Edgar Dula Torre in the eyeball-to-eyeball confrontation on that side of the teeming intersection.

At that point, I observed that the wall between the ranks of demonstrators and police was hard to distinguish because of the shoving from behind both fronts.

It was then that I heard the unmistakable sound of guns being cooked in unison as if an order had been given.

In the shoving match, it appeared that the ranks of the policemen were about to give way and it was then that I heard sporadic shots ring out.

Rocks and stones flew from the demonstrators’ side and the shoving match suddenly ended leaving a wide gap at the intersection between two “walls of humanity.”

The nightmare began then as the firing continued.

The shooting seemed endless. I kept on clicking my camera hoping to catch on film the bloody scenario unfolding before me and my fellow photojournalists covering the event.

The demonstrators clearly had no place to hide and they could only life prone on the asphalt road to avoid the bullets being fired from our side of the bridge.

I saw the protesters stand up in panic and step on one another fleeing for safety.

The Mendiola-Legarda intersection was soon cleared of rallyists, only the unmoving bodies of the dead and the heavily injured were left at the scene.

I felt a sudden cold inside me and it was then when I felt the shock of the experience wash down my fear.

I shouted at the fellow beside me atop the military truck, Manila Chronicle photojournalist Jess Fonseca: “Pare, talon, maraming patay.”

We uncaringly crossed infront of the ranks of the marines who were continuously firing their still smoking armalites and headed for the prone bodies at the center of the bloody “arena.”

My first shots of the casualties were those of a man with his head blown off, swimming in his own blood; another of a demonstrator lying face down unmoving with his feet straddling the sidewalk; still another of a young man clad in a maong jacket staring blankly at the sky, lifeless.

I went back to the first casualty who I saw stirring and asked the other photographers to help carry him to “safer grounds.”

However, we were prevented from doing so, as shots were still being fired as if from everywhere and it was only when the shooting stopped that we were able to begin tending to the injured and grieving for the dead.

By Manolet Agoncillo

By Mon Acasio

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