By Reynard Magtoto
LEGAZPI CITY, 15March2017 (BicolToday.com) – The appointment of former AFP chief Ricardo Visaya as administrator of the National Irrigation Administration Office (NIA) is an insult to farmers and undermining the strong demand and nationwide campaign for free irrigation according to Kilusang Magbubukid in Bicol (KMB).
“There is no way that we would allow Ricardo Visaya, a known violator of farmers’ rights to take helm at NIA which is mandated to provide irrigation services to farmers,” said KMB spokesperson Jonathan Moico.
Farmers in Bicol supported the picket held on March 13 at NIA Office in Quezon City against the appointment of Visaya as administrator of the agency.
Visaya has no background in irrigation and agriculture. He retired as the 48th AFP chief last December and General Eduardo Año replaced him.
According to Agriculture Secretary Emmanuel Piñol, all kinds of jobs can be learned.
Visaya is accountable for numerous killings of peasant leaders and activists in Central Luzon from 2005 to 2007 as well as the intense military operations of Lumad communities in Mindanao from 2014 to 2016.
“What would Visaya do at NIA? Would he order the harassment and killing of farmers demanding free irrigation? He has no business running a civilian agency. His appointment has no merit and just grounds. Farmers nationwide will reject Visaya as NIA chief,” said KMP chairperson Joseph Canlas.
According to the peasant leader, Visaya, who trained under the notorious butcher Gen. Jovito Palparan, is to blame for the deaths of at least eight farmer-leaders in the region, namely, Jhon Facunla Gado of Guimba, Nueva Ecija; Perla Torno Rodriguez of Mexico, Pampanga; Tirzo Cruz, from Hacienda Luisita; Ricardo Ramos, a farmer-leader in Hacienda Luisita; Federico de Leon, Bulacan coordinator of AnakPawis; William Tadena, a parish priest in Pampanga; and Bishop Alberto Ravento, a pastor of Iglesia Filipina Independiente; and Francisco “Tatang” Rivera of Angeles City, Pampanga.
Visaya is also accused in the killing, torture, abduction and disappearance of farmer-activists in Mindanao, where he served as commander of the Philippine Army’s 4th Infantry Division. The 69th Infantry Battalion, which Visaya personally trained, was also deployed to Davao City where it unleashed terror on the civilian population.
Stop collecting ISF
Farmers nationwide also scored the NIA for continuously collecting irrigation service fees (ISF) from farmers even after it was allotted an additional P2-billion budget to cover the ISF collected by the agency from farmers’ irrigators associations.
The said allocation will be used to cover the operating requirements of NIA and the maintenance of existing irrigation facilities which were previously funded from the ISF collections.
Late last year, the Department of Agriculture and NIA said that irrigation services would be free of charge starting January 2017.
“NIA is not abiding its own commitment that irrigation services would be free of charge starting this year,” Moico said. “We demand that NIA refrain from collecting irrigation service fees that are burdening our farmers.”
As farmers nationwide urge President Duterte to conscientiously reconsider his appointment of Visaya at NIA, they are considering the nationwide non-payment of irrigation service fees and back accounts.
Meanwhile, NIA Employees of the Philippines (NIAEASP) expressed hope that just like his predecessor, the new NIA administrator will also be pro-employees, pro-farmers and most especially pro-NIA by safeguarding and protecting the Agency from corruption and greedy personalities who see the Agency as a giant milking cow worth more than P36 billion for 2017 alone. [BicolToday.com]