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THE NETHERLANDS – The Old Catholic Church in Amsterdam overflowed with hundreds of Dutch, Filipinos and other people who joined family members in a recent memorial and tribute to the Dutch lay missionary Willem Geertman, who was killed by suspected military assassins in Pampanga last July 3.
Geertman, 67, was killed by motorcycle-riding men as he arrived in his office in Angeles City, and witnesses said he was shot, execution-style, even as he raised his arms in an instinctive plea for mercy.
A peasant-rights, human-rights and anti-mining/logging advocate, he had spent more than 30 years of his life in the Philippines, serving the poor peasants and indigenous people in Central Luzon. His brother said earlier Geertman was aware there were risks to his life, but had decided his life was in the Philippines.
The memorial service, organized by the Justice for Willem Geertman Campaign, began with a warm welcome from Rev. Fr. Dr. Peter-Ben Smit, parish priest of the OCC in Amsterdam. The mood of the afternoon was set with the heart-warming rendition of the Filipino choir who sang about martyrdom for the people's cause.
Toon Geertman, a brother of Willem, who just arrived from Manila with sister Maria, told the congregation Willem’s final resting place was under the shade of a mango tree. His remains had been brought, as was his last request, to Aurora province, where he had waged several pro-peasant and environmental campaigns.
For Willem to get justice, Toon said everyone concerned must break the silence and defy those who wish to neutralize those seeking justice and human rights.
Overwhelmed by Filipinos' love
Toon shared with the audience the warm reception and love they received from Willem’s colleagues and the people he had worked with in the Philippines. He said he saw and heard how people loved his brother so much, as they watched over his wake and told him and his sister stories about how Willem worked with them.
Toon said he was overwhelmed by the people's support as they lined up the streets while the funeral car carrying Willem's remains passed by enroute to the Baler Catholic Church, where eight priests concelebrated a mass in honor of Willem.
The Geertman family strongly believes that Willem was a victim of extrajudicial killing, said Toon, adding that during his brother's wake and funeral, certain unidentified persons were taking photos of the activities.
A video presentation prepared by the colleagues of Willem, who was executive director of the farmer-support and disaster-response institution Alay Bayan Inc., showed Geertman among the people served by his projects.
Theo Droog, chair of the Nederlands-Filppijnse Solidariteitsbeweging (NFS), described Willem as a humble human being who embraced the poor and marginalized in the Philippines. Droog also presented to the Geertmans a stone painted by an artist-friend, as a gesture of honor to him and his various advocacies.
Ana de Jesus read a message in behalf of the Filipino organizations in the Netherlands. She said the Filipino community in the Netherlands will forever be grateful to Willem for his martyrdom and solidarity with the Filipino people.
Manon Kantspoke in behalf of the Rotterdam community, where Willem took on a job as a worker and became active in the workers' movement there. Willem's heart was always with the oppressed and exploited, and his search for answers to end such oppression took him to the poor famers' and indigenous communities in the Philippines, said Kantspoke.
Tributes from all over
Ton Groeneweg of the ‘Mensen met een Missie’, said Willem made the ultimate sacrifice, that of offering his life for his fellowmen.
Prof. Jose Maria Sison, chair of the ‘International League of Peoples Struggle’ (ILPS), said Willem's martyrdom and legacy shed light on the road to a fundamentally new and better world of greater freedom, democracy, social justice, development and peace.
Nanette Hogervorst of Amnesty International and Angelica Gonzales of the International Coordinating Committee for Human Rights in the Philippines, both delivered responses, vowing to work harder for justice for Willem and for all the other victims of extrajudicial killings and other human rights abuses in the Philippines.
Maria, a sister of Willem, presented the various projects that Willem was busy working on at the time of his death. She said the Geertman family firmly supports Willem in his various projects and vowed to continue such projects through a foundation which was established for Willem. She appealed to the audience to join them in supporting and continuing Willem's project by contributing to the collection.
Members of the Filipino community read offertory prayers calling for justice for Willem, a stop to extrajudicial killings and to all human rights violations and an end to impunity in the Philippines.
People lit candles and offered flowers in front of the church altar where Willem's photo was displayed amid large banners stating: “Justice for Willem and for all victims of human rights violations in the Philippines”, “Justice for Willem Geertman – staunch environmentalist and anti-corporate mining and anti-logging advocate”. As the name of Willem Geertman and other victims of extrajudicial killings were called out, the crowd responded in one voice – PRESENTE! MABUHAY! With reports from the Justice for Willem Campaign and Migrante-Europe