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Tribunal’s guilty verdict ‘world’s judgement on war crimes in the PH’

The guilty verdict on President Ferdinand Marcos Jr., former president Rodrigo Duterte, and the Philippine government, as well on President Joseph Biden and the government of the United States of America (USA) is the world’s judgements on their war crimes in the Philippines, human rights group Karapatan said.

Following the conclusion of the International People’s Tribunal (IPT) held in Brussels, Belgium last May 17 and 18, Karapatan said it welcomes the quasi-judicial body’s judgement as an opportunity to exact and accountability from the respondents.

“With this verdict from the IPT, we have judgment from some of the world’s best legal minds and the weight of international public opinion to back the victims’ continuing quest for justice and an end to impunity,” Karapatan said.

READ: Tribunal finds Marcos, Duterte, Biden ‘guilty’ of war crimes

“For years, the Filipino people have suffered a range of human rights violations as well as violations of international humanitarian law, from political killings, massacres, enforced disappearances and bombings of civilian communities,” it added.

Karapatan the IPT verdict puts on center stage the inutility of domestic redress mechanisms to exact justice and accountability in the Philippines for human rights violations and violations of international humanitarian law committed by the Duterte and Marcos Jr. regimes,.

It said it hopes the decision will lead to independent investigations under the auspices of the United Nations Human Rights Council and other competent bodies from the international community.

Juror explains verdict

In a 10-page, the tribunal found “a steady rise in cases of abduction and enforced disappearance perpetrated by GRP (Government of the Republic of the Philippines) forces against activists.”

The decision, signed by an international panel of jurors that included former legal counsel to Nelson Mandela, Prof. Lennox Hinds, was greeted with applause by more than 200 observers in Brussels.

The jurors said they heard demands for justice from expert witnesses, direct victims such as anti-Manila Bay reclamation project Jonila Castro, as well as family members of deceased victims of the US-directed counterinsurgency operations. 

“We found substantial and compelling evidence of widespread extrajudicial killings, civilian massacres, enforced disappearances, indiscriminate bombings, and other gross violations of international humanitarian law,” Séverine de Laveleye, member of the Belgian Parliament and IPT juror, said.

“The atrocities and anti-people policies and actions of Mr. Duterte appear to persist and intensify under the current Marcos Jr. administration,” de Laveleye added.

Elaborating on the basis of the guilty verdict, Laveleye said: “Our decision is founded on the comprehensive examination of the evidence presented. The testimonies of the witnesses, many of whom have shown tremendous courage by coming forward, played a crucial role in shaping our understanding of the systemic abuses perpetrated under these regimes with the tacit support of the US.”

“Ample chance were given to the respond to the charges but have failed to reply or have refused to provide witnesses, and have therefore deemed to have waived their rights,” lead juror Lennox Hinds noted.

“The evidence presented was credible and consistent,” said Hinds, adding the victims shared an inability to seek justice in the Philippines due to neglect of the judicial process and harassment and intimidation by authorities. 

Abduction survivor Jonila Castro at IPT 2024. (Supplied photo)

Survivors elated

Castro, who personally narrated her and Jhed Tamano’s ordeal during the trial, said the Marcos Jr. government has not departed from the US-inspired fascist and anti-people policies of the Duterte regime.

“We want to stop the pattern of killings, abductions, and fake surrenders — we want the government to stop equating activists as combatants, and to surface all missing activists. We demand to hold state forces accountable,” Castro said.

In the Philippines, Eco Dangla, another abduction and torture survivor said he welcomes the IPT’s verdict, saying Marcos violates human rights as worse as Dutere.

“In his two years in office, there have been nine victims of abductions in Central Luzon, including Pangasinan, alone,” Dangla said.

“While five of us have been surfaced (Castro,Tamano, Dangla, and Jak Tiaong), four remain missing,” Dangla pointed out.

Progressive party list coordinators Ma. Elena Pampoza and Elgene Mungcal went missing in July 2022 in Tarlac Province while peasant organizers Norman Ortiz and Lee Sudario were abducted in September 2023 in Gabaldon, Nueva Ecija.

Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (BAYAN) also welcomed the verdict it said affirms its condemnation of the grave human rights abuses under the Marcos government.

“The IPT verdict will counter the disinformation narratives peddled by Marcos in his junket foreign trips that his government is committed to upholding human rights,” BAYAN secretary general Raymond Palatino told Kodao.

“We also assail the role of the Biden government in enabling impunity as it coddles the Marcos government and legitimizes the use of fascist means in suppressing dissent. US military aid is responsible for the brutal attacks of state forces targeting critics, including those who are against the intensified military presence of the US in the country,” he added.

BAYAN said the IPT documents will be discussed among people’s organizations and in communities across the country as part of their campaign to pursue justice and accountability. The IPT verdict will be shared with various institutions such as Congress, courts, local governments, churches, and schools, the group said.# (Raymund B. Villanueva)

Tribunal finds Marcos, Duterte, Biden ‘guilty’ of war crimes

The International People’s Tribunal (IPT) found President Ferdinand Marcos Jr., former president Rodrigo Duterte, the Government of the Philippines as well as President Joseph Biden and the Government of the United States of America (USA) guilty of war crimes in Philippines.

In an hour-long presentation of its verdict in Brussels, Belgium Saturday afternoon (local time), the IPT said the respondents are guilty of willfully killing civilians, intentionally directing attacks against civilians and property, as well as using indiscriminate means and methods of warfare that cause injury or unnecessary suffering.

Aside from causing widespread, long-term and severe damage to the natural environment, the Manila government’s military operations cause displacement of the civilian population, impede humanitarian aid, and commit acts or threats of violence and terror among civilians, the IPT said.

“These acts constitute serious violations of treaty and customary international law applicable in armed conflicts. In view of the foregoing factual and legal findings, the tribunal unanimously finds the defendants…guilty of all crimes and charges, including war crimes and violations of the International Humanitarian Law (IHL) alleged in the indictment,” the IPT’s panel of jurors declared.

The Tribunal added that the respondents are guilty of willful killing of New People’s Army (NPA) fighters already rendered hors d’combat (French for “unable to fight”). It also found them guilty of torture and other forms of cruel, degrading and inhuman treatment as well as “outrages against personal dignity and humiliating and degrading treatment and desecration of bodies of slain NPA fighters.”

In addition, the Philippine armed forces also “committed abduction and enforced disappearance, the arbitrary arrest and detention and deliberate attacks against civilians merely suspected of having links with a belligerent party, including the filing of trumped-up charges, red-tagging, terrorist labeling and designation, threats and harassments and intimidation,” the Tribunal said.

The jurors said the prosecutors proved with “clear, convincing, credible, consistent and relevant evidence” their allegations, leading to a unanimous verdict.

The Tribunal said it heard oral evidence from victims and families, expert witnesses and resource persons. It also read affidavits, letters, written statements, reports, publications, resolutions, and similar documents, as well as saw photographs and images, watched and heard audio-video recordings in the course of its two-day deliberations that started last Friday.

“[There were] 15 witnesses in the proceedings, eight in person and seven through video depositions, who delivered in clear and coherent manner. Eleven were victims, families or colleagues while four were experts or resources persons who testified on the context, nature and scale of IHL and human rights violations,” it said.

Policy and practice

The IPT cited the massacre of the Fausto family in Negros Island, the massacre of Tumandok tribespeople across Panay Island, and the killing and persecution of the Save Our School tribal school volunteers across Mindanao as examples of the “willful killing of civilians by GRP (Government of Republic of the Philippines) forces.”

READ:

  1. Mission reports AFP responsible for Fausto massacre, other killings
  2. Gov’t troops massacre 9 Tumandok in Panay
  3. ‘Chad Booc and 4 others were massacred’ – Save Our Schools Network

It said that the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) uniformly claimed the victims were NPA fighters and planted evidence to bolster their canard.

The IPT also said that government air strikes and use of heavy ordnance in various places across the country were “indiscriminate.”

Many captured NPA fighters, including those already rendered hors d’combat have been summarily executed as a “matter of practice,” the jurors added, citing the cases of the five recently killed in Bilar, Bohol and of the 22-year old Jevilyn Cullamat

READ:

  1. Rep. Cullamat pays tribute to martyred daughter; condemns desecration of remains by gov’t soldiers
  2. NDFP peace consultant Randall Echanis murdered
  3. Group reports continuing surveillance on wounded journalist

“That these happened in various regions has rendered this as a matter of policy for state armed forces…The scale and frequency of these practices indicate they were deliberate and undertaken as a matter of policy by the GRP,” the jurors said.

The Tribunal also found the defendants guilty of “sustained nationwide attacks against individuals and organizations led by the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict through red-tagging campaigns and terrorist proscription.

Victims of such vilification campaigns often end up dead like NDFP peace consultant and peasant leader Randall Echanis, or permanently disabled such as paralegal and community journalist Beandon Lee, the jurors said.

The jurors also noted that there has been a steady rise of abduction and enforced disappearance under Marcos Jr. and his government, such as in the case of Jonila Castro and Jhed Tamano, as well as Dexter Capuyan and Gene Roz Jamil de Jesus last year.

The witnesses gave “astoundingly credible detail” of the systematic nature of the abductions,” the Tribunal said.

Witnesses to include former Bayan Muna Rep. Eufemia Cullamat whose daughter, slain NPA fighter Juvilyn, was desecrated by government soldiers. (IPT photo)

“The lack of genuine investigations into these cases and the impunity that characterize these cases all point to to the GRP as the author,” it said.

The Philippine government could not rely on its national laws to violate IHL and human rights, it said, also noting the lack of genuine police investigations or reports of violations, “even passing the blame on the victims.”

US equally guilty

The Tribunal said Biden and the US government are similarly guilty of the said war crimes and human rights violations.

It said the US places large resources at Manila government’s disposal, including USD1.14 billion worth of military equipment.

Presidents Marcos and Biden at the White House in 2023. (Malacanang photo)

The US is also building military facilities across the country and sends thousands of troops to train the AFP and participate in war games called the Balikatan, the Tribunal noted.

It added that the Philippine counter-insurgency strategy is adopted from US doctrine.

“The US is responsible for directing, training and operating the GRP…[playing an] indispensible role in the atrocities,” he tribunal said.

International jurors and prosecutors

IPT 2024 was presided by a panel of international jurors of lawyers, parliamentarians, professors, and a Bishop.

Julen Arzuaga Gumuzio is a Basque politician, writer and lawyer, member of the Euskal Herria Bildu coalition in the Basque Parliament since 2012. He is part of the European Association of Democratic Lawyers.

Lennox Hinds is founder of the National Conference of Black Lawyers and former counsel for the African National Congress. He currently teaches in the Criminal Justice Program at Rutgers University.

Suzanne Adely is a founder of the Middle East, North Africa Labor Solidarity Network in the United States. She is a long-time member of Al-Awda-NY, the National Lawyers Guild, and the Defend the Egyptian Revolution Committee of New York.

Joris Vercammen is a Belgian cleric and archbishop of the Old Catholic Church, active in the Netherlands. Vercammen was elected to the Central Committee of the World Council of Churches in 2006.

Séverine de Laveleye is a Belgian politician active for Ecolo. In 2018 she was elected as a municipal councilor of Vorst for Ecolo and was elected as as a member of the Belgian Chamber of Representatives in 2019.

The prosecutors meanwhile were Belgian human rights lawyer Jan Fermon and his German colleagueRoland Meister.

The jurors said copies of their verdict shall be sent to the Philippine Embassy in Brussels, the US Embassy in Brussels, the European External Action Service, the European Parliament, the International Criminal Court, the International Court of Justice, the United Nations (UN) Human Rights Council, the UN High Commission on Human Rights, the International Committee of the Red Cross/Crescent, the UN Secretary General, and the Permanent People’s Tribunal. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

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)

Rep. Cullamat pays tribute to martyred daughter; condemns desecration of remains by gov’t soldiers

Bayan Muna Representative Eufemia Cullamat paid tribute to her fallen daughter she described as a martyr for the Lumad’s struggle for self determination and justice.

In a statement, the grieving mother also slammed the Philippine Army for desecrating the remains of 22-year old Jevilyn by taking photos of the New People’s Army medic like a war trophy.

“I love my child who loved the people. I am proud of her. She was a hero of the Lumad and all of the people,” Cullamat said in Filipino.

As a mother, Cullamat said she is heartbroken at the news that Jevelyn perished in a raid by government troopers in Marihatag, Surigao del Sur last Saturday, November 28.

“I strongly condemn the disrespectful acts on the remains of my daughter. She is not a trophy to be used in the military’s propaganda. You did not only disrespect the dead, you also offended my grieving family,” she said.

In subsequently deleted posts, the Philippine Army posted photos of its raiding team delightfully posing before the younger Cullamat’s remains, along with seized guns and paraphernalia.

Violation of the rules of war

International Association of Democratic Lawyers interim president and National Union of People’s Lawyers president Edre Olalia said the government soldiers violated international rules, domestic laws and bilateral agreements on the conduct of war.

In a legal opinion, Olalia cited Article 16 of the 1949 Geneva Convention prescribing protection of corpses against ill treatment.

Article 34 (1) of the 1977 Additional Protocol I on International Armed Conflicts also orders that remains of persons who have died from hostilities shall be respected, he said.

The human rights lawyer also cited Article 4 of the 1977 Additional Protocol II on Non-International Armed Conflicts that prohibits “outrages upon personal dignity, in particular humiliating and degrading treatment” of all persons who do not take a direct part or who have ceased to take part in hostilities, as was in Jevilyn’s case who already died when the Philippine Army’s trophy photographs were taken and distributed.

Offenses upon the personal dignity of fallen parties constitute a war crime in both international and non-international armed conflicts according to the 1998 Statute of the International Criminal Court, Olalia said as well.

The lawyer said government troops are mandated to observe international instruments on the conduct of was as Republic Act 9851 penalizes crimes against international humanitarian law, genocide and other crimes against humanity.

Olalia also reminded the government of Article 3 of the 1998 of its Comprehensive Agreement on Respect for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law with the National Democratic Front of the Philippines prohibiting “at any time and in any place” the desecration of the remains of those who have died in the course of the armed conflict and to prevent despoliation and mutilation and to dispose of them with respect.

“On top of these commands under international humanitarian law, at core is basic human decency, respect and civility that is at issue here,” Olalia said.
“There are universal laws that civilized people observe even if, because, or in spite of armed hostilities,” the human rights lawyer added.
Jevilyn Cullamat (supplied photo)

‘Victim of state terrorism’

Cullamat said Jevilyn’s decision to join the armed struggle stemmed from the abuses the Lumad suffer at the hands of the government’s armed forces as well as the indigenous peoples’ extreme poverty.

“She saw with her own two eyes how our leader Dionel Campos, Datu Bello Sinzo, and Alternative Learning Center for Agricultural and Livelihood Development, Inc executive director Emerito Samarca were massacred in Lianga, Surigao del Sur on September 1, 2015,” the elder Cullamat said.

She said Jevilyn was a kind child who they raised to become nationalistic, brave, principled and with a mind of her own.

“Every Lumad child is raised to become worthy and useful to the community,” Cullamat added.

The Makabayan Bloc member said that Jevilyn’s sacrifice of her life for the people and defense of their ancestral land is worthwhile, “whatever the vultures who surrounded my daughter’s remains say.”

“It is a great honor for me to have a child who became a warrior and martyr…I am undoubtedly proud of Jevilyn because she fought against an unjust system, for us Lumad,” she said.

“No mother would renounce a child who set aside her personal interests to offer her life for the people and for the defense of our ancestral land,” Cullamat added. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)