“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.” – Kalikasan-PNE
By INA ALLECO R. SILVERIO
MANILA — Outrage met reports that a Dutch environmental advocate based in the Philippines was killed early noon on July 3.
Willem Geertman, executive director of Alay Bayan Inc. (ABI), was shot and killed by unknown men in front of his office in Sto. Domingo, Angeles City Pampanga. As of this writing, human rights organizations in Central Luzon are securing more information on who was behind the killing and what the motives were.
ABI is a non-government organization that works on community-based and development-oriented responses in addressing the vulnerabilities stemming from poverty, powerlessness, environmental degradation and political abuse. Together with other environmental and civic organizations, Geertman and the ABI campaigned for disaster risk reduction and environmental concerns in Central Luzon.
Kalikasan People’s Network for the Environment (Kalikasan PNE) and the Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (BAYAN) immediately expressed grief and demanded justice for the slain environmentalist.
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.
According to reports, Geertman first arrived in the Philippines 46 years ago as a Dutch missionary. He eventually devoted his life in community development and NGO work in Central Luzon. He was actively involved in land rights and environmental protection issues and concerns in the region, particularly forest protection in Aurora, Pampanga and Zambales against logging and mining.
Kalikasan-PNE said Geertman was the 17th environmental activist killed under the Aquino administration and sixth this year.
“The Aquino administration is inutile in stopping the cold-blooded murder of environmental workers. The Aquino administration’s record is bloodier than the previous Arroyo administration. Worse, it appears that President Benigno Aquino III is encouraging the perpetration of killings and human rights violations against environmental activists by defending destructive projects like large-scale mining and commercial logging. The administration also gave orders to military and paramilitary forces to give protection and serve as security forces of mining and logging companies,” Bautista said.
ABI, Kalikasan PNE and various human rights groups will immediately conduct, this week, a fact-finding mission on the incident.
For its part, Bayan slammed Geertman’s killing and demanded that investigations should be immediately launched to expose the circumstances surrounding his death. Bayan said it worked with Geertman on relief missions, particularly last year in Nueva Ecija and Aurora in the aftermath of Typhoon Pedring. Alay Bayan facilitated the relief mission of the Bayanihan Alay sa Sambayanan (BALSA) led by Bayan and allied groups.
Geertman is the second European NGO/Community worker killed under the Aquino regime, after the death of Fr. Pops Tentorio in Mindanao.
Harrasment against environmental journalists
In a related development, Kalikasan PNE also sounded the alarm over what it said was a harassment campaign against Mindanao environmental journalists.
Bautista said death threats are hounding reporters Edwin Iyo and Ben Serrano, and editor Herbie Gomez of the Mindanao-based Gold Star Daily for speaking the truth about illegal logging in Cagayan de Oro.
“This is telling of how lax and ineffective environmental policies have allowed illegal large-scale loggers to thrive and think they are above the law. In fact, at least five cases of human rights violations against anti-logging activists were recorded since 2001, not including harassment cases that are harder to document,” Bautista said.
Iyo and Serrano released a June 15 2012 article that precipitated the filing of charges ordered by the Department on Interior and Local Government against businessman Roger Edma for allegedly using an illegal certificate from the Community Environment and Natural Resources Office to transport illegal logs.
Kalikasan PNE noted that environmental journalists are particularly targeted for their key role in influencing the public. Five of the 52 recorded killings among environmentalists since 2001 involved environmental journalists, radio broadcasters Dr. Gerry Ortega, Jessie Camangyan and Nestor Libaton.
“It is ironic that reforestation, the Aquino government’s flagship environmental program, has done little to curb the grave impact of unsustainable logging over the past two years, including logging-related HRVs. Environment officials boast of confiscating 13.3 million board feet of illegal forest products but exempted large-scale mining companies from the Executive Order 23 log ban. The government is also not acting on petitions against agri-industrial plantations and other land-use conversion schemes that cover protected forest areas, such as what caused the Typhoon Sendong tragedy that killed thousands,” Bautista pointed out.
In the recent celebration of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources’ (DENR) 25th anniversary celebration, one of the accomplishments underscored was the conviction of 57 individuals, who were already convicted before, stemming from a total of 328 cases filed against violators of the log ban.
“The fact that journalists covering illegal large-scale loggers as well as anti-logging advocates continue to experience HRVs is quite telling that the illicit timber business is still well-entrenched. The Aquino government must not content itself with small fish and take on big business loggers. It must also pour serious effort into defending environmental defenders from backlashes of private entities and corporations,” Bautista said.