Harvesting Shadows: The Resurgence of Philippine Farmer Killings and Echoes of Martial Law

Harvesting Shadows: The Resurgence of Philippine Farmer Killings and Echoes of Martial Law
A photo from NBC News. Protesters in Manila, Philippines, marked the 50th anniversary of martial law at a rally (2022)


Anna Vu kim

Southeast Asia and Pacific and Human Rights Researchers

Global Human Rights Defence

The Philippines, a nation with a tumultuous history, finds itself grappling with a haunting reminder of its past. The recent surge in farmer killings has resurrected memories of the country's brutal martial law period under the dictatorship of Ferdinand Marcos. Once again, the Philippine countryside is witnessing a wave of violence and oppression against farmers, threatening their livelihoods and reviving the traumas of the past (Alindogan, 2012). 

From 1972 to 1981, the Philippines was under martial law, characterised by the suppression of democratic freedoms, widespread human rights abuses, and the targeted persecution of farmers and rural communities. During this time, the government, led by Ferdinand Marcos, employed a heavy-handed approach to quell dissent, stifling political opposition and consolidating power (Alindogan, 2012).

Farmers, who form the backbone of the Philippine agricultural sector, were among the most brutal hit. Land dispossession, forced evictions, and violent crackdowns on peasant movements became routine occurrences. Countless farmers were subjected to torture, imprisonment, and extrajudicial killings. 

Tragically, recent years have seen a resurgence of violence against farmers reminiscent of the martial law era. 

Al Jazeera news reports the latest case in Himamaylan, Filipiny, that in total, 53 bullet casings were found by police outside the bamboo and thatched wood house of Emelda Fausto and her husband, Roly, where they were killed on June 14 along with their children Ben, 14, and Ravin, 11 (Aspinwall, 2023).

Police and military claim the New People’s Army (NPA), an armed communist rebel group, killed the Faustos after learning that Roly, 52, was supposedly working with the military.
But several relatives, including two of their surviving children, told Al Jazeera they believe the military is behind the killings (Aspinwall, 2023).
Since Marcos Jr was sworn in on June 30, 2022, 24 farmers have been killed, according to the International Coalition on Human Rights in the Philippines, which attributes the killings to state forces.

The 94th Infantry Battalion, which operates in much of northern Negros, has been accused of numerous human rights violations in the years since, including bombing civilian areas and forcibly evacuating communities outside the city of Himamaylan (Aspinwall, 2023).

These killings are often linked to land disputes, where powerful landowners, corporations, and even state security forces are accused of perpetrating violence to maintain control over agricultural resources.

The government's response to these atrocities has drawn comparisons to the Marcos era. The lack of accountability, the denial of state-sponsored violence, and the vilification of activists mirror tactics employed by past administrations to suppress dissent and avoid responsibility. The government should establish an independent and impartial body to investigate these crimes, hold perpetrators accountable, and provide reparations to affected families.

Moreover, comprehensive agrarian reform is essential to address the underlying issue of landlessness and the concentration of land in the hands of a few. Implementing policies that protect farmers' rights, facilitate access to land, and promote sustainable agriculture can help create a more equitable society and prevent the recurrence of such atrocities.

Sources and further reading:

Aspinwall, N. (July 14, 2023). Philippine farmer killings revive dark memories of martial law.

Retrieved on July 19, 2023, from


Alindogan, J., (September 21, 2012) Al Jazeera’s reports from Manila. Philippine martial law’s painful legacy

Retrieved on July 19, 2023, from