Thomas van Beersum: A familiar face to Filipino migrant community
Dutch national Thomas van Beersum’s most recent post on Facebook is a photo-op (photo opportunity) in which his friends and supporters, including Filipinos, hold up a piece of paper printed with a “Like” icon and the words “Support international solidarity for justice, peace, and human rights in the Philippines.”
Beersum is back in The Netherlands, after being held for 30 hours by Philippine immigration officials without counsel, deported, and “banned” from returning to the country.
But he is not the least bit disheartened by his experience. If anything, it revealed to him the nature not just of the Philippine government, but the mainstream mass media as well.
‘An attack on activism’
“The attacks on the foreign delegates are also formulated as an attack on activism and the Left in general. The media would like to ignore ‘dissenting voices’ or the stories of the beaten-up activists. They want to dehumanize activists and humanize the brutality of the PNP (Philippine National Police),” Beersum said in an interview with Pinoy Weekly.
“The mainstream media does not want to focus on the actual reasons why there was actually a protest because they are the ones who are artificially trying to create a political climate which should be receptive to whatever the Philippine government wants to do,” he said.
Beersum attended the protest action on President Aquino’s State of the Nation Address (SONA), during which he was photographed confronting a cop. The cop broke down in tears after admitting that he does not want to follow orders to beat up protesters.
According to Beersum, the original story on the sympathetic nature of both the cop and the protesters was twisted in “in favor of hyping up the story of the ‘arrogant foreigner insulting a Filipino cop’.”
Human Rights Watch: Revoke blacklisting
Various human rights groups have denounced the Philippine government’s treatment of Beersum.
The New-York based Human Rights Watch (HRW) said that the government should revoke the blacklisting of Beersum.
“That Beersum was arrested when he was already on his way out suggests this was nothing but harassment. The government’s behavior violates the guarantees of free expression and peaceful assembly to which foreign visitors as well as Philippine citizens are entitled under international law…While the administration seems to have time to chase foreigners protesting rights violations, it has fallen far short of its rhetoric to end impunity for serious abuses,” Carlos Conde, HRW Asia Division Researcher said.
In a separate interview, Conde elaborated that foreigners enjoy the same rights to free expression and peaceful assembly in the Philippines.
“No one should be penalized for exercising those rights peacefully. The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which the Philippines is a signatory, guarantees those rights. Although there are restrictions such as national security and ‘public order’, in the case of Beersum, none of it seem to apply. There are claims that Beersum violated ‘public order’ but if that is so, then he should have been charged in court immediately after the SONA protest that he participated in. As far as we can gather, Beersum didn’t face such a charge,” he said.
At first, Bureau of Immigration (BI) officials said that Beersum was being held for overstaying. But after the Dutch national proved that he was not, the BI finally admitted that he was being deported for participating in a protest action.
Atty. Edre Olalia of the International Association of Democratic Lawyers also said that Beersum’s detention had no legal basis, and that his rights were violated by denying him counsel.
He said in an interview with Pinoy Weekly that Beersum was a victim of a “jingoist demonization of a young foreigner whose candid views and youthful zeal sincerely questioned government’s claims.”
Berated by Philippine official
Beersum also related how he was detained by Philippine officials at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport last August 6, when he was about to board his flight home.
“I already checked in my flight and my luggage. Then when I got to the immigration services my name popped up on the Alert List, which I was put on one day before my flight. Because of this I was brought to the immigration supervisor and had to wait for many hours. After a few hours I got taken to the Intelligence Department of the airport where I stayed until the morning after. They tried to conduct tactical interviews with me. When I was in the intel office lots of media came in and out all the time, shoving their cameras into my face without asking my permission first. Because of the constant media attention, the immigration officers made sure to give me pizza and allowed me to be on my phone. I am sure that other deportees do not get the same privileges,” he said.
Beersum continued, “Fingerprints and mug shots of me were taken by an officer who earlier berated me and told me in a loud volume that I will never ever be allowed to come to the Philippines again. The next day I was turned over to some people and they escorted me to my plane.”
Spending time with migrants
Meanwhile, Filipinos living in The Netherlands attest that the 20-year old Beersum is a “familiar face” to the Filipino migrant community.
Mitch Saturay, Beersum’s friend and colleague told Pinoy Weekly, “He attends many of our activities. He is always ready to lend a sympathetic ear to Filipinos here who have stories to tell. He lends his skills and camera to our events. He takes out kababayans visiting The Netherlands on walking tours around Amsterdam and Utrecht when they come to visit. He is always eager to learn a new Filipino word and proudly uses them in conversation. And yes, he personally knows Jose Maria Sison, just like many Filipinos in The Netherlands do.”
A photo on Facebook of Beersum with Sison, chief political consultant of the National Democratic Front of the Philippines who is exiled in The Netherlands, was also used by the media to attempt to discredit the Dutch national.
According to Saturay, Beersum “knows the huge gap between the rich and the poor in the Philippines” not only by having discussions with Sison and other Filipino political activists in the Netherlands, but also by spending time with Filipino undocumented migrants.
“He has also visited the Philippines before and had lived among poor peasants, tribal communities, urban poor communities about to be demolished, and political prisoners unjustly detained because of their beliefs…Out of his own hard-earned savings, he paid for his plane fare and his daily expenses,” she said.
Saturay expressed grief at the backlash Beersum received over the ‘crying cop’ incident. “They are racist, violent, and composed intentionally out of context. They certainly would make PO1 Joselito Sevilla wail louder in utter frustration because they incite a lynch mob against solidarity workers like Thomas.”
“For us here in the Netherlands, Thomas van Beersum’s pale skin color, blond sideburns and Dutch accent remind us he is a ‘foreigner’ while he is in the Philippines. But his heart, thoughts and actions reveal his genuine concern for his brown brothers,” she said.
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