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Honor all martyrs who fought for freedom and democracy

04:00 AM September 20, 2019

Emerito Samarca. Romeo Capalla. Lawyer Benjamin Ramos. Willem Geertman. Fr. Fausto “Pops” Tentorio. All five, believed to have been summarily killed by government security forces, led development programs and institutions that provided social services to the poorest of the poor in the different regions of Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao.

Geertman was the executive director of Alay Bayan-Luson Inc. (ABI), a support service institution based in Central Luzon engaged in disaster management, community health, organizing, and environmental education and advocacy. He was gunned down inside ABI’s office on July 3, 2012. Two men were seen in a security footage video ordering him to kneel, and he was then shot in the back. The gunman, Marvin Marzan Nuguid, was sentenced to life imprisonment by the Regional Trial Court of Pampanga on July 1, 2019. However, farmers’ organizations and Geertman’s friends and relatives in Central Luzon believe that the real people behind his murder continue to roam freely, and real justice remains elusive.

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Capalla once headed the Panay Fair Trade Center, an alternative trading and marketing organization based in Iloilo. He was shot dead by unknown killers on March 15, 2014, as he was about to fetch his 90-year-old mother-in-law at the Oton public market.

Ramos was the executive director of Paghidaet sa Kauswagan Development Group, which implemented sustainable agriculture and organic farming programs in Negros. Ramos was shot by motorcycle-riding gunmen in front of a variety store in Kabankalan City, Negros Occidental. He had three gunshot wounds and was pronounced dead on arrival at the Holy Mercy Hospital in Kabankalan City.

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Samarca was the executive director of the Alternative Learning Center for Agricultural and Livelihood Development
(Alcadev), which manages a secondary school and cooperative in Lianga, Surigao del Sur. He was killed by members of a paramilitary group in one of the rooms in the compound of Alcadev on Sept. 1, 2015. His body was found with a stab wound, and his neck, arms and legs tied up.

Father Pops coordinated the Tribal Filipino Program of the Kidapawan Diocese in North Cotabato province and was also a board member of the Mindanao Interfaith Services Foundation Inc. He was also part of the Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions. He was killed on Oct. 17, 2011, inside the Our Mother of Perpetual Help Parish compound in Arakan, North Cotabato. He was going to board his vehicle when unidentified gunmen fired 10 shots at him.

Each of them had their beginnings in development work during the martial law years. The development programs that they undertook were rooted in the life and struggle of the peasants, agricultural workers, fisherfolk and indigenous peoples. Always in support of the people’s movement, these endeavors dared to fight landlords, mining and logging companies, government bureaucrats, military and police to uphold and defend the interests of the oppressed and struggling Filipino people.

All five development workers, including the two foreign nationals—Geertman and Father Pops—persevered and worked alongside the poor and downtrodden from the martial law years up to the time of their bloody deaths. Tomorrow, Sept. 21, the nation once more commemorates a time in its history where its most cherished freedom was shackled and fought for by its best sons and daughters, who drove away a much dreaded dictatorship.

The commemoration of the declaration of martial law is a time of reckoning: to honor all martyrs who fought for freedom and democracy, not by resignation and apathy, but by continuing the fight for genuine development. Samarca, Capalla, Ramos, Geertman, Father Pops and all
others like them left us with the greatest legacy of all, which is to serve the people no matter the cost. We shall not fail them.

BISHOP DINDO RANOJO,
Diocese of Tarlac,
Iglesia Filipina Independiente, spokesperson, Assert Socio- Economic Initiatives Network

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