MANILA, Philippines - The killing of Dutch missionary and environmentalist Willem Geertman on Tuesday had nothing to do with the victim’s advocacy in assisting the farmers of Hacienda Luisita, Malacañang said yesterday.
“It doesn’t appear to be so,” presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda said.
Lacierda said police authorities in Pampanga are investigating the incident, following the directive of Interior Secretary Jesse Robredo.
The Philippine National Police (PNP) said they would look into all possible angles.
Geertman, executive director of Alay Bayan Inc. (ABI), was shot by two unidentified men a few meters from his office in Barangay Telebastagan, San Fernando, Pampanga at noon Tuesday. The 67-year-old Dutch missionary was reportedly assisting farm workers in Hacienda Luisita in his capacity as an official of ABI, which is an affiliate of the Alyansang Magbubukid ng Gitnang Luzon (AMGL), the mother unit of the Alyansa ng Manggagawang Bukid ng Asyenda Luisita (Ambala).
The hacienda is owned by President Aquino’s family.
Police initially described the killing of Geertman as a robbery as gunmen took a bag of cash he was carrying.
Militant groups, however, rejected the police theories, saying the military could be behind the murder.
PNP spokesman Senior Superintendent Generoso Cerbo said police would carefully examine all evidence, even as the military denied allegations it was responsible.
“In due time, we will discover the true motive and later, we will see who are the perpetrators,” Cerbo said.
A journalist who reportedly witnessed the killing cited a seeming pattern in the elimination of environmental advocates in Central Luzon.
Fred Villareal, vice chairman of the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) Pampanga chapter, claimed the killing of Geertman could be related to the murder of Waldo Palispis, a former Commission on Elections (Comelec) officer and member of the militant Bayan Muna party-list group, in Aurora over the weekend.
Villareal said that days before the killing of Geertman, they talked about Palispis. He said Geertman and Palispis shared an advocacy on the protection and conservation of the environment.
Geertman reportedly aired his concern over the killing of Palispis.
“He asked me whether I had heard about the killing. He said he had worked closely with Palispis in the campaign against mining and illegal logging in Aurora province,” Villareal said. “I hope I am wrong, but there seem to be a pattern in all of these.”
Villareal said he was disappointed with the initial police report that said Geertman’s was a case of robbery with homicide.
Villareal said he was at the terrace of the ABI trying to email a story from his computer when he heard men shouting below.
“I thought they were just kids joking with each other but when I looked, there was a man holding a gun while Willem was on his knees,” he said.
After seeing Geertman fatally shot, Villareal said he tried to follow the suspects but was stopped when one of them pointed a gun at him.
Villareal said the suspects could have followed Geertman from the bank before he was shot dead. He could not recall, however, seeing the gunman flee with any bag or envelope that could have been taken from Geertman.
“He was about to enter the office when the two suspects arrived and immediately pointed their gun at him. If the bag (of Geertman) was the target, they could have carted it off easily without resistance because he immediately raised both his hands in surrender,” Villareal said.
Despite this, Villareal said one of the suspects forced Geertman to kneel and then shot him in the back “in the manner of execution.”
San Fernando City police chief Senior Superintendent Chito Magnaye said the initial investigation showed Geertman was a victim of robbery. Magnaye said Geertman’s bag, reportedly containing P1.2 million, was taken by the gunmen.
Magnaye though stressed the real motive of the killing has yet to be established.
PNP spokesman Cerbo said a task force was created to investigate the murder of Geertman.
“We are hoping to solve the case as soon as possible. The SITG (special investigation task group) will be in addition to the regular police unit in coordination with the Criminal Investigation and Detection Group and the Intelligence Group to be able to orchestrate a systematic police investigation,” Cerbo said.
Cerbo, however, said investigators are still clueless on the motive but there was indication that Geertman was a victim of robbery.
“Reports had it that the victim has just withdrawn the money from a bank, so it could be robbery. Another information indicated that the attack could have something to do with his work. We will look into all possible angles,” Cerbo said.
“With the SITG created by the Pampanga police, in due time we will be able to establish the motive and the people behind the attack,” Cerbo said.
Lacierda, on the other hand, took note that a closed circuit TV was in the area, which some residents confirmed had been installed by homeowners.
“There’s a recorded vehicle, there’s a CCTV and they have footage. (Police) are just in the process of identifying the vehicle and the assailants,” Lacierda said.
Lacierda expressed optimism the crime would be solved, saying CCTV had caught footage of the suspects’ getaway car.
The CCTV footage reportedly showed several men in a red Mitsubishi Galant car and a motorcycle following Geertman’s Isuzu pickup on the way to the bank where the victim withdrew cash.
The CCTV also apparently recorded the escape of the two suspects on board a motorcycle.
“Men who said they were police investigators borrowed the tape soon after the shooting and said they would return it in the evening,” one resident said.
Roman Polintan, chairman of the Bayan Muna in Central Luzon, said the tape had not been returned even as Magnaye denied police investigators already had custody of the footage.
“I really would like to see that tape as it would help in the investigation,” Magnaye said.
The usual suspects
Polintan claimed Geertman had been at odds with the military over his environmental advocacies in various parts of Luzon, particularly in Aurora province.
“ABI is involved in pro-poor projects, including environmental, disaster relief and rehabilitation concerns all over Luzon,” he said.
Polintan quoted witnesses as saying that during a recent meeting in Ma. Aurora town, Aurora, a military officer accused Geertman and his staff of being fronts for the communist New People’s Army (NPA).
“He demanded the military officer (to) take back the allegation,” he said.
Environment advocates expressed outrage over the killing of Geertman. “Environmentalists are fast becoming an endangered species.”
The group Kalikasan People’s Network for the Environment (Kalikasan PNE) claimed a total of 58 environmental advocates in the country have fallen victim to various human rights violations from 2001 to 2012. They cited the murder of Palawan environmentalist Gerry Ortega and botanist Leonard Co.
The group said Geertman is the 17th environmental advocate killed during the two-year Aquino administration.
Kalikasan-PNE national coordinator Clemente Bautista said Geertman was a very active advocate against large-scale mining in Pampanga and Zambales provinces.
“The military forces in the area should be immediately investigated as there are several complaints and records of their involvement in human rights violations against anti-mining activists like Geertman,” he said.
He said Geertman arrived in the Philippines 46 years ago as a Dutch missionary and eventually dedicated himself to land rights and environmental protection issues and concerns in Luzon, particularly forest protection in Aurora, Pampanga and Zambales against logging and mining.
The military, on the other hand, described as irresponsible the allegations that they were behind the murder of Geertman.
Army spokesman Maj. Harold Cabunoc said soldiers are not engaged in extrajudicial killing but are actively coordinating with various human right groups in stopping these criminal activities.
“That is an irresponsible accusation which is not based on evidence. 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,” Cabunoc said.
- With Dino Balabo, Ding Cervantes, Cecille Suerte Felipe, Mayen Jaymalin, Jaime Laude, Rhodina Villanueva, Evelyn Macairan, Jose Rodel Clapano, Ric Sapnu