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)