“100 Candles for Willem Geertman”: a candlelight tribute
Justice for Willem Geertman Movement
from Stichting Filippinos
Justice for Willem Geertman Movement is a formation that aims to bring human rights advocates, civil libertarians, environmentalists, the church and religious sector, peasant and rural poor, indigenous people and different sectors to a campaign seeking justice for Willem Geertman and other victims of human rights violations in the Philippines. To date there are already 99 victims of extra-judicial killings in the country under the two-year administration of Benigno Aquino III.
Who is Willem Geertman?
Wilhelmus JJ Lutz Geertman was a Dutch missionary from the Calama group who came in the Philippines during the early 70’s. He continued his studies in Theology and as a student of Sociology at the University of the Philippines. He became part of the Missionary Volunteers (MIVO) of the Prelature of Infanta under Bishop Julio Xavier Labayen, OCD during the late 70’s. Along with MIVO they lived among the poor peasants and indigenous people in the Province of Aurora in the Central Luzon region of the Philippines in their goal to establish a church of the poor. “Wim” as he is fondly called by his colleagues and the local people who knew him, advocated for the rights of the marginalized and joined their cause for land reform, against destructive corporate mining and logging and other “development projects” that wreak havoc to the environment and to the lives and livelihood of peasant and indigenous communities. His work has been instrumental in the formation of grassroots peasant and indigenous people’s organizations in Aurora, along with church desks and programs. He also worked for the development and welfare of the poor in the fields of healthcare and sanitation, education and disaster preparedness and mitigation.
His work for the people and their organizations clashed with the interests of those in power and caused his vilification such as being tagged as a “New People’s Army (NPA) supporter” and “communist” by the military. At the height of the Arroyo administrations’ Oplan Bantay Laya in 2006 he was among those maligned by the 48th Infantry Batallion of the Philippine Army along with leaders of progressive organizations and his fellow foreign missionaries in Aurora. The military even propagated a fake letter of communication where Willem allegedly was a ranking leader of the underground revolutionary movement gathering support for the making and stockpiling of improvised explosives in the town of San Luis.
However, the dangers were never a hindrance to Wim’s advocacy for the poor as he accepted the post of executive director of Alay Bayan-Gitnang Luson Inc. (ABI) in 2009. Under his leadership, the grassroots disaster preparedness NGO became Alay Bayan Luson, Inc. serving not only Central Luzon but its nearby provinces. ABI organized grassroots disaster preparedness committees (DPCs) in areas where the people risk economic, cultural and physical displacement due to government and corporate projects such as the Aurora Pacific Economic & Freeport project (APECO) in Casiguran, Aurora and large-scale corporate mining in Sta.Cruz, Zambales among others.
The Killing of Willem and the Human Rights Situation in the Philippines
After the bloody human rights record of the Arroyo administration and its internal security and counter-insurgency plan Oplan Bantay Laya where there were 1,206 cases extra-judicial killings and 206 cases of enforced disappearance, the Aquino government faces the challenge of improving the human rights situation of the country. Aquino’s internal security plan Oplan Bayanihan promises to bring reforms and focus on civic operations and projects. Its own human rights record, however, is telling otherwise.
As of July 2012 there are currently 99 cases of extra-judicial killings, 6 of which are in Central Luzon while illegal arrests and filing of trumped-up charges against leaders of progressive organizations and citizens struggling for their rights significantly rose in which 36 of the 147 cases in the country is in the region.
There has been no let up of the harassment and vilification campaign of state forces and the paramilitary against progressive and cause- oriented organizations; even more the military use civic operations and projects as a ploy to sow division among communities opposing “development projects”.
Figures indicate that more and more environmental activists under Aquino particularly those opposing destructive corporate mining projects are killed.
Before Willem was murdered on July 3, suspicious men were loitering around the office of ABI. Last year, he and a colleague were almost overrun by a motorcycle a few meters away from the local police station. ABI staff and members of their disaster preparedness committees (DPCs) particularly in Aurora and Sta.Cruz, Zambales have been subjected to harassments by the military and paramilitary.
The past and present administration has targeted an insurgency-free province of Aurora. As such it has been the focus of intense militarization in the region and is one those with the worst human rights conditions. The province is the site of big
“development projects” such as APECO in Casiguran and the Aurora Food Basket in Maria Aurora along with the planned separation of the project’s area into the new town of Dr. Juan Angara. The targets of human rights violations are those that oppose these projects as in the case of Dumagat chieftain Armando Maximino and Romualdo Palispis, a former colleague of Wim and a staunch critic of these projects.
Willem’s long history of advocacy provides the context of the motive behind his murder and should not be utterly disregarded by the Philippine authorities. A fact-finding mission led by Bayan-Gitnang Luson (New Patriotic Alliance-Central Luzon) and Karapatan-Gitnang Luson (Alliance for the Advancement of People’s Rights-Central Luzon) pointed to the fact that the killing was well-planned and intended, and that the robbery could have been coincidental since Wim’s errand at the bank was not a routine and has just been decided on that day.
The Justice for Willem Geertman Movement’s (J4WGM) main objective is to seek justice for the killing of Geertman and for other victims of human rights violations in the Philippines
This Movement further aims:
- to call for the end to impunity in the country and to policies that encourage the culture of impunity which further aggravate human rights violations of people who struggle for their rights to land, livelihood and dignity;
- to call for the scrapping of the national internal security plan (NISP) Oplan Bayanihan of the Aquino government designed on the framework of the Counter-Insurgency Guide of the United States;
- to continue Geertman’s advocacy for the rights of the poor and for their struggle against destructive development projects such as APECO, destructive corporate mining, large dams, global warming and for genuine agrarian reform, comprehensive and pro-people health and sanitation programs and other social services for the poor.
The J4WGM will be composed of Geertman’s family, colleagues, peoples organizations, human rights and civil liberty advocates and defenders, lawyers and paralegal workers, humanitarian and disaster preparedness groups, church people, teachers and education workers, friends and supporters from within and outside the country.
To serve as its dynamic center is a group of convenors, assisted by a secretariat at the local (Central Luzon) and at the national level in order to sustain its varied activities in the country, and will reach out to other groups and individuals outside the country to drum up the campaign at the international level.
J4WGM activities aim to educate and propagate to the public the life and advocacies of Willem Geertman, to unite people in the call for a swift and independent investigation of his killing, for justice for Willem and for other victims of human rights violations through varied and creative forms such as:
1) Ecumenical Mass and Gathering
5) Press conferences
6) Rallies and mass actions
7) Dialogue and trooping to concerned government agencies