Tribunal on war crimes in the PH goes underway

The International People’s Tribunal (IPT) is underway in Brussels, Belgium, investigating alleged war crimes in the Philippines committed by the Rodrigo Duterte and the Ferdinand Marcos Jr. governments.

“The intensity of the armed conflict in the Philippines, the ruthlessness of atrocities committed by the State, and the severity of the violations of the laws of war have made it imperative to call out and make the perpetrators answerable for the outrages against the people and those who resist oppression and exploitation,” Edre Olalia, transitional president of IPT co-convenor International Association of Democratic Lawyers (IADL), explained. 

“This tribunal will not only provide a deterrent for future abuses, preserve evidence for future legal action, but also present a parallel politico-legal platform as a credible alternative to tedious, protracted, inadequate and status quo-friendly existing legal remedies and judicial arenas that do not bring true justice to the people,” Olalia added.

The tribunal began on Friday and is set to end later today, Belgium time.

In addition to hearing complaints against Marcos Jr. and Duterte, the IPT is scrutinizing the direct role and supervision of the United States government in counterinsurgency operations in the Philippines.

“Crucial to this inquiry is the examination of the role played by the U.S. government, which has historically directed, designed and supported so-called counterinsurgency operations,” former Bayan Muna Rep. Teddy Casiño said.

“Through military aid, political backing, and diplomatic relations, successive U.S. administrations, including the current one led by President Biden, have contributed to the perpetuation of violence and impunity in the Philippines,” Casiño added.

The Marcos Jr. and Duterte governments have both massacred civilians and recklessly bombed entire communities with impunity in the name of their ‘counterinsurgency’ operation “because of U.S.-backing,” Robert Reid, chairperson of IPT co-convenor Friends of the Filipino People in Struggle (FFPS), said. 

IADL interim president Edre Olalia and FFPS president Robert Reid. (IPT 2024 photo)

Abduction survivor as star witness

A prominent government abduction survivor is among the resource persons in the ongoing tribunal.

“My abduction by state agents was not an isolated incident but a part of a larger pattern of human rights violations perpetrated by the U.S.-backed Marcos Jr. regime,” Jonila Castro said in a press conference launching the tribunal.

Castro is an environmental activist kidnapped by elements of the Philippine military on September 2, 2023 together with fellow environment defender Jhed Tamano.

“By brandishing me as a so-called terrorist, they effectively robbed me of my freedom and put a target squarely on my back. With their terror-tagging spree, they intend to create a chilling effect where anyone who dares to speak out against injustice risks becoming a target themselves,” Castro added. 

Peasant-based human rights network Tanggol Magsasaka (Defend Farmers) in the Philippines expressed support for the exercise, saying it is high time Duterte and Marcos Jr. are made accountable for their war crimes.

Tanggol Magsasaka added Duterte was responsible for the worst human rights abuses and violations of international humanitarian laws, ranging from political killings, massacres, summary executions, and bombings of civilian communities.

The group cited documentation by human rights group KARAPATAN from July 2016 to June 2022 showing a total of 442 victims of extrajudicial killings.

Half of the victims, listed at 222, were human rights defenders, while the rest were peasants, indigenous and Moro peoples, workers, environmental defenders, lawyers, church people, and the urban poor, the report said.

Tanggol Magsasaka said that an overwhelming majority of the victims, listed at 336, were from the peasant sector, 103 of whom were leaders and members of KMP, 31 were from Anakpawis while three were from Pamalakaya.

“The Marcos Jr. regime is continuing the policies of the previous Duterte government – intensified militarization and heightened police brutality resulting in a host of human rights violations. While the anti-drug war is impacting urban poor communities, the counterinsurgency campaign continues to affect the lives of the rural poor,” the group added.

NDFP Negotiating Panel senior adviser Luis Jalandoni explains the importance of international people’s tribunals.

Court of public opinion

While not a formal trial court or recognized by any government or inter-government entity, the organizers said the IPT has a strong tradition of forming public and global opinion on repressive regimes.

This year’s IPT follows a series of tribunals on the Philippines which first started with the Permanent People’s Tribunal (PPT) in 1980 also in Belgium that investigated two cases filed by the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) and the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) and found the Marcos Sr. dictatorship “guilty of grave and numerous economic and political crimes against the Filipino.”

Subsequent tribunals in 2005, 2007, 2015 and 2018 have indicted the defendant Philippine regimes together with the U.S. government for committing crimes against the Filipino people. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

Int’l tribunal finds Duterte ‘guilty’ of slaughter and other crimes

The International People’s Tribunal (IPT) held in Brussels, Belgium found President Rodrigo Roa Duterte “guilty” in a two-day hearing held in Brussels, Belgium.

After hearing 31 testimonies and experts’ reports on Duterte’s alleged crimes, including his government’s war on drugs that has killed at least four thousand victims, as well as “essentially genocidal war especially among indigenous peoples,” among other charges, the tribunal said they found Duterte culpable of anti-democratic and anti-people policies.

“The consistency and robustness of the testimonies has unanimously appeared to us as to be so compelling to justify the deliberation of a clear verdict on the main responsibilities of the main defendants,” the tribunal said.

Although not a strictly legal and judicial proceeding, the IPT, composed of globally eminent lawyers and human rights defenders is hoped to draw more attention on the state of human and other social and political rights in the Philippines under Duterte.

Watch this video of the presentation of the verdict.

Int’l tribunal on Duterte’s ‘gross violations’ underway in Belgium

An international people’s tribunal goes underway in Brussels, Belgium to hear complaints of human rights violations against the Rodrigo Duterte government.

In a statement, the spokespersons for the International Peoples’ Tribunal (IPT) said they take cognizance of the complaints filed by the victims and experts on the various violations of the rights of the allegedly perpetrated by Duterte of the Philippines and even Donald John Trump of the United States of America.

Based on the complaints, the IPT said Presidents Duterte and Trump are being indicted for gross violations of civil and political rights, economic, social and cultural rights, as well as national sovereignty, development, and International Humanitarian Law.

The Tribunal said it has summoned “defendants” Duterte and Trump on September 10, 2018.

“Unfortunately, we have yet to receive any formal response to the summons,” the IPT said through its spokespersons Jeanne Mirer, President of the International Association of Democratic Lawyers, and Peter Murphy, Chairperson, Global Council, International Coalition on Human Rights in the Philippines.

In reply, Presidential spokesperson Harry Roque told reporters that the government will not respond to the summons, adding the Tribunal is “a sham proceeding” intended “for propaganda purposes.”

“Because that’s not the official proceeding. That’s a propaganda proceeding of the Left,” Roque said.

Bagong Alyansang Makabayan secretary general Renato Reyes, an IPT participant, however said charges being raised before the tribunal are “very real.”

“These are not false charges like the ones government uses against its critics. The process is also fair as the Philippine government was duly notified through the US embassy in Washington,” Reyes said.

He explained the the results of the tribunal shall be transmitted to different international bodies including the International Criminal Court, the European Parliament, the United Nations, and others.

“Rather than disparage the Tribunal, the Duterte regime should listen to the charges raised by the victims,” Reyes said.

(A live video of the proceedings may be viewed here.)

Aside from Reyes, victims of human rights violations, their families, as well as leading activists travelled to Belgium to serve as witnesses and complainants.

They include Karapatan’s Cristina Palabay, Piston’s George San Mateo, Sandugo’s Amirah Alih Lidasan, and others.

Other complainants and witnesses, meanwhile, have submitted video depositions because of their inability to travel to Belgium.

Legal experts from the Philippines and abroad also attended the Tribunal to act as prosecutors and facilitators.

They include former Bayan Muna Representative Neri Colmenares and National Union of Peoples’ Lawyer president Edre Olalia, as well as peoples’ lawyers Kathy Panguban and Ephraim Cortez.

People’s tribunals on the state of human rights in the Philippines have been held in Europe and United States of America in the past against the Ferdinand Marcos, Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, and Benigno Simeon Aquino administrations, all of which found were found guilty.

This year’s IPT is the earliest held against a sitting president, owing mostly to the Duterte government’s two-year drug war that has been reported to have killed more than 20,000 victims.

Although not a formal legal proceeding, people’s tribunal are seen by local and international human rights groups to be important events that highlight grave human rights situations in the Philippines.

The IPT held against Marcos was seen to have contributed to his downfall in 1986 after its informed a great part of the world of his regime’s human rights violations.

The spokespersons said that the IPT panel of Jurors, as in the past, are all “experts and eminent individuals…of proven competence, integrity, probity and objectivity, and experienced on issues on human rights, rights of peoples, and international humanitarian law.”

The IPT said it will hear testimonies and receive evidence from the witnesses for the prosecution and the defense.

“Barring any untoward incident, the Jurors shall deliberate over and deliver the verdict of the Tribunal in the afternoon of September 19, Brussels time (Thursday evening in the Philippines).

“We are well aware of the gravity of the cases and the urgent cry for justice from the victims, survivors and the entire Filipino people. Rest assured that the Tribunal will be fair and just, and will be partial only to the Truth,” the IPT said. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)