Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Dutch aiding Luisita farmers shot dead

SAN FERNANDO, Pampanga, Philippines – A 67-year-old Dutch missionary who was reportedly assisting farm workers in Hacienda Luisita was executed in front of his office in Barangay Telebastagan here at past noon yesterday.

Willem Geertman, executive director of the Alay Bayan Inc. (ABI), was shot in the back by two unidentified men as he knelt just a few feet from his office inside L&S subdivision at around 12:45 p.m.

ABI is an affiliate of the Alyansang Magbubukid ng Gitnang Luzon (AMGL), the mother unit of the Alyansa ng Manggagawang Bukid ng Asyenda Luisita (Ambala).

Fred Villareal, vice-chairman of the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines in Pampanga, said the gunmen also pointed their pistol at him when he tried to run after them to get the plate number of their getaway motorcycle.

Villareal said Geertman and three members of his staff arrived at their office in his Isuzu vehicle after withdrawing money from Metrobank when the two suspects parked their motorcycle outside the ABI compound.

“I had just emailed my story, which I did on the terrace of the office when I saw the suspects holding Willem, who was then kneeling. That’s when the shot rang out. I then tried to rush towards them but one suspect pointed his gun at me. I again ran after them as they fled to get the plate number of their motorcycle, but one of the suspects again pointed his gun at me before they fled,” he said.

Villareal said the suspects could have trailed the victim from the bank, although he could not recall seeing them flee with any bag or envelop in which the victim could have kept the money.

However, a later report said that the gunmen fled with the victim’s bag, which contained about P1.2 million.

He said the suspects were wearing baseball caps and jackets but did not bother to cover their faces.

Geertman’s Facebook account indicated that he finished Asian Studies at the University of the Philippines in 1973, listed Ma. Aurora in Aurora province as his place of origin and Bayan Muna party-list as one of his “interests.”

He had been living in the country for more than 30 years and spoke fluent Filipino.

Villareal said Geertman had been engaged in fighting for land reform for farm workers in Hacienda Luisita.

ABI chairman Joseph Canlas said he had no idea who could be behind the assassination, but that military personnel had allegedly been acting as postal workers delivering letters addressed to ABI headquarters.

“Geertman’s killing was the latest operation of extrajudicial killers in the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) under Oplan Bayanihan,” Pamalakaya chairman and Anakpawis party-list vice chairman Fernando Hicap said.

Hicap said Geertman was killed because of his “advocacy for genuine land reform, rural empowerment and social justice.”

“ABI had been providing relief and rehabilitation services to farmers, fisherfolk and indigenous people victimized by state-sponsored calamities and disaster and Geertman had joined the people’s opposition against the Aurora Pacific Special Economic Zone and Free Port project in Casiguran, Aurora because of the project’s negative impacts on rural people and the environment,” he said.

Last Saturday, Bayan Muna-Central Luzon also reported the killing of its member and convenor Walso Palispis, who was allegedly shot by military men.

According to cause-oriented groups, Palispis is the 78th victim of alleged political killings under the Aquino administration and the fourth of its members to be killed in Central Luzon since July 2010 when the present government took office.

Amnesty International earlier called for the formation of a “presidential accountability commission” on political killings, enforced disappearances and torture and urged that this be formed in time for President Aquino’s coming State of the Nation Address.

Last month at the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva, some representatives from 69 countries expressed concern over extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearances and torture in the Philippines. – AP - By Ding Cervantes