By RONALYN V. OLEA
MANILA – Hacienda Luisita farmers and human rights defenders were one in opposing Gen. Ricardo Visaya as possible new chief of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP). According to reports, incoming President Rodrigo Duterte is eyeing the current Southern Luzon command chief to head the AFP.
For Unyon ng Manggagawa sa Agrikultura (UMA), Visaya deserves to be prosecuted, not promoted. “Visaya deserves to be in jail with Aquino,” UMA Secretary General Danilo Ramos said.
Visaya was ground commander of the 69th Infantry Battalion involved in Hacienda Luisita massacre on November 16, 2004. At least seven farmworkers were killed and hundreds more were injured in the violent dispersal of striking farmworkers, widely-believed to be ordered by President Benigno Aquino III and his family. Aquino was then a Congressman of Tarlac and active administrator of the controversial sugar estate.
Luisita farmers filed charges against Visaya and other military officials before the Ombudsman in 2005, but the charges were dismissed when Aquino assumed presidency in 2010.
Human rights alliance Karapatan, meanwhile, identified Visaya as the “right hand” and “protégé” of retired Gen. Jovito Palparan Jr. While the two were deployed in Central Luzon, seven supporters of Luisita farmers, including Tarlac City Councilor Abel Ladera, Father William Tadena and Bishop Alberto Ramento of the Iglesia Filipina Independiente were killed in a series of attacks after the massacre.
Visaya’s unit was also involved in the massacre of lumads in Paquibato, Davao City in June last year, according to Karapatan. He also headed the 27th IBPA in Polomolok, South Cotabato which allegedly perpetrated harassment against farmworkers of Dole Phils. during a union election in 2011, targeting leaders of the incumbent union affiliated with the Kilusang Mayo Uno.
“The people are truly counting on Mayor Duterte to make good on his promise to dispense justice and curb crime. As the incoming Commander-in-Chief, Duterte must not allow notorious criminals like Visaya to be at the helm of the country’s armed forces,” said Ramos.