Church leaders on Wednesday condemned the killing of a 67-year-old Dutch aid worker in Angeles City and urged President Benigno Aquino to seriously act on the rising incidence of extrajudicial killings in the country.
Wilhelmus JJ Lutz Geertman, 67, executive director of the nongovernment Alay Bayan-Luson Inc. (ABI), was shot and killed by two unidentified men Tuesday noon in front of his office in Barangay (village) Sto. Domingo.
His murder brought to 13 the number of extrajudicial killings during the 2-year-old Aquino administration, Manila Auxiliary Bishop Broderick Pabillo said over Church-run Radio Veritas.
“It is saddening and infuriating that another person who helps us with our advocacy especially with the farmers of Hacienda Luisita [has been killed],” said Pabillo, chairman of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines’ National Secretariat for Social Action (Nassa).
But Geertman’s colleagues said it was unlikely that he was killed due to the agrarian dispute in the sugar estate owned by the family of President Aquino, which was ordered distributed by the Supreme Court to farm workers.
Geertman had not even set foot at the estate in Tarlac province, ABI spokesperson Loren Villareal said, describing the courtesy calls made by ABI staff members to village chiefs before they began in January a program for the training of community health workers.
“We tend to link Wim’s death to his anticorporate mining and logging stance and to his being a staunch environmentalist,” Villareal said.
Joseph Canlas, chairman of Alyansa ng Magbubukid sa Gitnang Luzon, described Geertman as a “supporter and advocate of genuine agrarian reform,” but he did not link this facet of the Dutch aid worker’s advocacy to his death.
Geertman, who had been staying in the Philippines for 46 years as a lay missionary involved in such causes as farmers’ and indigenous peoples’ rights was gunned down just as he arrived from a bank where he withdrew money. ABI, an organization of peasants and rural poor in Central Luzon, declined to disclose the amount.
Police are looking at the killing as a case of robbery with homicide, said Superintendent Luisita Magnaye, Angeles City police chief.
The case was transferred for investigation to the City of San Fernando police because the ABI office is at the San Fernando side of L&S Subdivision.
The National Council of Churches in the Philippines (NCCP), a large alliance of non-Catholic organizations in the country, said Geertman’s death could not just be “dismissed as an act of robbery as was the police conclusion in the assassination of the Most Rev. Alberto Ramento in Tarlac.”
In a statement, the NCCP said the victim was “known for his advocacy in defense of farmers, especially in Hacienda Luisita and his compassion for disaster victims.”
“The killing of Geertman builds on a sad chapter of continuing extrajudicial killings in the country. We will not dwell on the statistics but we decry the failure of the government to arrest and prosecute perpetrators of this wanton taking of human lives,” the NCCP said.
PH image tainted
Archbishop Emeritus Oscar Cruz also expressed his dismay at the latest case of extrajudicial killing over Radio Veritas Wednesday.
“This will surely taint the image of the Philippines again in the international community,” he said.
“What is more depressing is that the one murdered was a foreigner whose purpose was mainly to help poor Filipinos,” the prelate said, adding that he believed that Geertman’s death had something to do with his work for the farmers of Hacienda Luisita in Tarlac.
Pabillo noted that Geertman helped Nassa in its campaign against the Aurora Pacific Economic Zone and Freeport (Apeco), a government project that planned to convert vast tracts of agricultural land into commercial and industrial areas.
The Dutchman was also part of Bataris, an organization that catered to Ata-Dumagat tribes in Aurora province, and helped in the formation of Samahan ng mga Katutubo sa Sierra Madre, an indigenous peoples’ organization, according to a statement of the Kalipunan ng mga Katutubong Mamamayan ng Pilipinas (KAMP).
Alfonso van Zijl, also a Dutch citizen and head of Bataris, said Geertman led relief operations and was present during community dialogues in villages affected by the Aurora free port.
He said Geertman attended the antimining forums organized by the Justice and Peace Action Group of Aurora (JPAG) in June last year. He noted that the killing took place three days after the JPAG chair in Maria Aurora town was shot dead on Saturday in his house.
Pabillo challenged Mr. Aquino to finally deal with the mounting human rights violations in the country especially in his upcoming State of the Nation Address (Sona).
“He must issue strong words and at the same time take serious actions on the matter or else human rights violations will continue to plague our country,” the bishop said.
In a statement, the Citizens’ Disaster Response Network (CDRN) denounced the killing of Geertman, one of its officers.
“As we mourn the loss of a committed development worker, we also vow to continue his good work for vulnerable communities and humanitarian response,” said Jimmy Khayog, CDRN chair.
“Wilhelm spent most of his years in the service of the poor and oppressed in our country. It is an outrage that he, too, became a target for such barbarous killings,” said Piya Malayao, KAMP spokesperson.
“With this government’s record on human rights and persecution of activists like Wilhelm,” Malayao said her group suspected state forces were behind the killing.
Major Harold Cabunoc, spokesperson of the Philippine Army, described the charge as “irresponsible.”
“If they have proof that our soldiers are behind this killing, we will not hesitate to let the accused soldiers answer the charges in a court of law,” he said. With reports from Tonette Orejas, Inquirer Central Luzon, and Dona Z. Pazzibugan in Manila
Originally posted: 7:08 pm | Wednesday, July 4th, 2012