By Prof. Jose Maria Sison
Chairperson, International League of Peoples’ Struggle
(At Memorial Service in Honor of Willem Geertman,
Oud-Katholieke Kerk, Amsterdam, 15 July 2012)
First of all, I express warmest condolences to all the people personally close to our beloved Kasamang Wim/Willem (Wilhelmus JJ Geertman)—his sisters, brothers and other relatives and all his comrades and friends in The Netherlands and the Philippines.
We are all outraged by his murder and we all demand that justice be rendered. However, we comfort ourselves by recalling his struggles and achievements in serving the people. Thus, we celebrate how his love for the exploited and oppressed people ennobled and enriched not only his own life but the lives of so many others. We thank him for devoting his life and hard work to serve the people most in need of help and for making the supreme sacrifice through his martyrdom.
I am proud to have known Kasamang Wim personally. I met him for the first time in 1991 when he came back to The Netherlands after his first long stay in the Philippines. I was awed that he could speak Tagalog fluently like a Filipino and that he knew Philippine social conditions so comprehensively and profoundly. Most importantly, he had integrated with Filipino workers by becoming a worker himself. He had also integrated for a longer period of time with the peasants and indigenous people in the diocese of Infanta, Quezon.
Initially, Willem Geertman was inspired by the tenets of Calama and thus joined the project to build the church of the poor in cooperation with progressive elements of the church headed by Bishop Labayen. He and his fellow church workers built their own huts from place to place and lived and worked like the peasants and indigenous people around them. They sought to learn from them their conditions and needs and mobilized the local community to assert their basic rights and to improve their livelihood, education, health and other conditions.
In the course of sharing the life and struggles of the poor people and interacting with the national democratic movement Willem widened and deepened his understanding of the dire conditions of the people and the urgent need for fundamental social change. He became ever more inspired to fight for the interests of the people and ever more conscientious in his work among the masses. Thus, he started to be suspected of being associated with the revolutionaries. He was vilified and harassed. He came under the surveillance of the reactionary military as early as during the Marcos fascist regime and the succeeding Aquino regime.
When he was back in The Netherlands from 1991 to 2001, he became a worker, joined a working class party and became active in the working class movement. He was close to the Filipino community and we met frequently at Dutch-Filipino solidarity activities. He supported the Filipino migrant workers and the refugees, including myself. He continued his keen interest in Philippine developments. He contributed whatever assistance he could to worthy causes in the Philippines. When he decided to return to the Philippines, he came to tell me: uuwi na ako sa atin (I am going home to our land).
He returned to Aurora to work again among the peasants and indigenous people. He took up their issues and assisted them in asserting and defending their rights; and in protecting the environment and their sources of livelihood against the landgrabbers, the logging interests, the mining companies and the pseudo-development program of the Angara political dynasty. As he worked harder for the rights and interests of the people, he incurred the ire of the ruling politicians and the military. He was accused of working with the communists and the New People’s Army, harassed and threatened with death at the time that General Palparan and his like were running amok under Oplan Bantay Laya.
Because of his exemplary work in Aurora, religious institutions and progressive organizations urged him to expand the scale of his work to the entire region of Central Luzon. He overcame his hesitance and became the executive director of Alay Bayan. His work included defending human rights, promoting trade unions and peasant associations, supporting the farm workers in Hacienda Luisita to acquire their land, protecting the environment and undertaking disaster relief in the face of recurrent floods in the region.
He stood out in opposing the building of an uneconomic highway from the former US naval and air force bases on the western side of Central Luzon through the Hacienda Luisita at the middle of the region to the pseudo-development free port project of the Angara dynasty on the eastern or Pacific side. When I met Willem last year in Utrecht, he was expressing his concern about the use of huge amounts of public money for infrastructure projects that were resulting in landgrabbing, expanded mining and logging operations and further destruction of the environment. In the presence of a film maker, I suggested to him that a documentary or a dramatic feature film be made on the plight and struggle of the people.
We talked about the dangers posed to him by the military under the current Aquino regime and its Oplan Bayanihan. But he said that he had to do his job. He said so even as he was aware that foreign missionaries and social activists, accused of working with the communists and the people’s army, had been subjected to intense surveillance and subsequent extrajudicial killing. He suffered the same fate like the Italian missionary, Fr. Fausto (Pops) Tentorio. A few days before Kasamang Wim was killed, his co-worker and close friend Romualdo Palispis of the Justice and Peace Action Group and Bayan Muna was also murdered in Aurora. In all three cases, motorcycle-riding gunmen, coordinating with others, delivered the death blow with the military precision of death squads.
The Philippines has a rotten ruling system of the big compradors, landlords and corrupt high officials servile to the US and other imperialist powers. As a matter of course, the exploiting classes exploit and oppress the toiling masses of workers and peasants and the indigenous people. They unleash the worst forms of violence, including forced disappearances, torture and extrajudicial killings, on those considered as most responsible for the assertion of the people’s rights and the rise of people’s resistance. Violence with impunity against the defenders of the people’s rights is the hallmark of the semicolonial and semifeudal ruling system.
Willem Geertman is an outstanding hero of the Filipino people and the international proletariat. His martyrdom in the hands of the Filipino reactionaries fails to terrorize the Filipino people but serves to inspire them to fight ever more resolutely and militantly for their national and social liberation. It is our duty to seek justice for Willem Geertman and to perpetuate his memory and example of serving the people and fighting for their rights.
Long live his legacy of service to the people and international solidarity! It is an inspiration for the people’s struggle from generation to generation. It sheds light on the road to a fundamentally new and better world of greater freedom, democracy, social justice, development and peace. Mabuhay ang diwa, gawa at alaala ni Kasamang Wim! (Long live the spirit, deeds and memory of Comrade Wim! ) ###