MANILA - The Netherlands on Friday called on the Philippines to hold accountable the gunmen who murdered a Dutch aid worker in an attack that stirred outrage among local activist groups.
Dutch ambassador to Manila Robert Brinks expressed his shock over the killing of Willem Geertman, 67, who was shot by two men in the compound of his aid group in a city north of Manila on Tuesday.
"Ambassador Brinks noted Geertman's years of involvement with local development and humanitarian organisations and expressed his sincere hope that authorities will hold those behind the killing accountable," a statement released by the Dutch embassy said.
Police had originally identified the victim as "William Geertman" and said he had likely been killed during a robbery.
However, some activist groups linked the killing to the government's fight against communist guerillas, while others said it was related to a land dispute centring on the redistribution of a farm estate owned by the family of President Benigno Aquino.
Both suggestions have been rejected by the government.
The embassy statement said the Netherlands had been active in working to improve the human rights situation in the Philippines, particularly with regard to the seeming impunity of powerful men in killing political opponents.
Police investigators were checking leads provided by witnesses of the shooting, police officer Menchu Nucup of the northern city of San Fernando, where the attack took place, told AFP on Friday.
She said the witnesses related how Geertman, who was working on an anti-malaria campaign in the country, resisted two armed men who were trying to snatch a bag containing money he had just withdrawn from the bank.
"They tried to pull the bag from him. They shoved him and he fell to his knees and then they shot him from behind," she told AFP, quoting witnesses.
One activist group, the National Alliance of Indigenous People's Organisations in the Philippines, said Geertman had been in the country for 46 years and had been active in championing the causes of farm workers and tribal folk and highlighting environmental concerns.
These included the proposed redistribution of the ancestral plantation of the clan of Aquino's late mother to farm workers, activists said.
The Supreme Court had ruled in favour of the Hacienda Luisita workers in April, and ordered the government to effect its redistribution.