Agriworkers slam outgoing AFP Chief for role in Luisita massacre

“Under BS Aquino, perpetrators of the Hacienda Luisita massacre were never prosecuted. They are promoted instead.”

The Unyon ng mga Manggagawa sa Agrikultura (UMA), a national federation of agricultural workers, slammed outgoing AFP Chief Gen. Gregorio Pio Catapang for recommending another “massacre general” to replace him at the helm of the country’s military establishment after his retirement on Friday.

“Gen. Catapang was appointed by Aquino precisely for his loyalty to the hacienderos of Tarlac – for his active involvement in the 2004 Hacienda Luisita massacre,” said Ranmil Echanis, UMA deputy secretary general.

Catapang reportedly named five generals as “worthy replacements” including Gen. Ricardo Visaya, who is widely-criticized as a human rights violator,right-hand man and protégé of “butcher” Jovito Palparan.

Visaya was the commander of the 69th Infantry Battalion, the army unit directly implicated in the massacre of striking Hacienda Luisita farmworkers in 2004. Visaya, who is currently the chief of the AFP Southern Luzon Command (SOLCOM), is also implicated in harassment and extra-judicial killings of indigenous peoples, peasants, agricultural workers and union leaders during his stint in Mindanao.

UMA also said that Gen. Catapang, who would retire on July 10, lied in his counter-affidavit dated January 27, 2009 when he stated that no AFP personnel fired a single shot during the Luisita massacre.

This was belied by the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) report dated February 8, 2005 which cited two witnesses namely then-Department of Labor and Employment(DOLE) Sheriff Francisco Reyes and an ambulance driver, Arturo Dayrit who were quoted as saying that they saw soldiers firing their guns.

These findings were substantiated by the report made by the Health Alliance for Democracy (HEAD)and Health Action for Human Rights (HAHR) which was submitted to the to the Senate Committee on Labor on January 12, 2005.

The report concluded that “the health team finds adequate substantial evidence to state that the strikers of Hacienda Luisita were shot not ‘as a defensive stance’ or because the PNP and AFP ‘were provoked’ but rather as a direct armed offensive assault on the picket line. This assertion is supported by: a) the number and types of injuries and deaths, b) the character of the injuries and physical findings, and c) the volume and length of gunfire sustained against the strikers.”

The NBI report affirmed that the protesters’ sworn statements were more credible than those of the government personnel. The report states, among others, that “even the independent witnesses who submitted sworn statements corroborated the claims of the protesters that the government side fired their weapons directly to the position of the protesters.”

President Aquino, then-congressman and administrator of the estate, is one of the respondents in the massacre case.

“Under Aquino, court proceedings for the Luisita massacre case were ‘murdered’ twice – only a few months after Aquino held office in December 2010, when police and military respondents were allowed to go scot-free by the Ombudsman; and in October 2014, a month before the 10th anniversary of the massacre, when the Ombudsman junked the survivors’ appeal to reopen the case,” said Echanis.

UMA and its affiliate AMBALA, the local farmworkers alliance in Hacienda Luisita, are studying the possibility of filing new charges against Aquino, outgoing Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) Chief Gen. Catapang, and others involved in the Hacienda Luisita massacre.

Meanwhile, Aquino’s role in recent human rights violations in Hacienda Luisita is among the grounds for charges to be heard in the International Peoples’ Tribunal (IPT) to be convened by human rights advocates and lawyers in Washington, DC from July 16-19.

Gi Estrada
UMA media officer

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