THOUSANDS of farmers from various provinces in Northern Mindanao converged in Cagayan de Oro Friday to demand genuine land reform and protest against human rights abuses.

The protest Friday marked the 23rd anniversary of the Mendiola massacre.

Francisco Pagayaman, local coordinator of the militant Anakpawis, said the march rally of hundreds of farmers from Misamis Oriental, Bukidnon and other provinces in the region was meant to "show the unity of farmers from all over the country in denouncing the Carp Extension with Reforms (Carper)."

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Carper extends for another five years the 20-year-old Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (Carp).

Critics, however, said that Carper was designed to fail as it aims to distribute 90 percent of agricultural lands in the country – something that the old Carp had not done in its two decades of existence.

Dubbed as "Martsa-Sakbayan sa Mag-uuma ug Uban Pang Anakpawis Alang sa Yuta ug Hustisya," the rally also called on the government to fair land distribution to farmers, and justice for all the victims of human rights abuses under Arroyo regime.

"This is not just to remember the deaths of many farmers of the Mendiola massacre. It is to remember that until now, justice still has not been obtained," Pagayaman said in the dialect.

On January 12, militant groups, farmers and supporters launched a 10-day nationwide caravan as part the 23rd anniversary of the Mendiola massacre.

Pagayaman's group said the farmers' march from Mindanao to Luzon also aims to spotlight "the worsening political and economic attacks against the farmers through the pro-landlord Carper" and the "Oplan Bantay Laya 2" - a military operational plan against insurgency that militants suspect has been instrumental in the killings of activists.

For its part, the military considers Oplan Bantay Laya 1 and 2 as blueprints against communist insurgency, and not a systematic plan to liquidate militants.

In Manila, police closed off Mendiola bridge to traffic and readied mobile patrol teams at the Welcome Rotonda, on the boundary of Manila and Quezon City, to escort the farmers to Mendiola.

The protest commemorates the Mendiola massacre on January 22, 1987, when 13 farmers were killed while several other people were injured during a violent police dispersal of a rally for land reform at Mendiola Bridge.

Manila Mayor Alfredo Lim, who allowed the farmers to march to Mendiola, was head of the then Western Police District that dispersed the farmers. (ALR/Sunnex)