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Marcos, Duterte and Biden found guilty of Philippines war crimes

By Joe Iosbaker

Panel of jurors \[left to right\], Julen Arzuraga Gumuzio, Severine De Laveleye, Lennox Hinds and Suzanne Adely.  | Fight Back! News/staff

Brussels, Belgium – A packed house of several hundred people witnessed a dramatic legal proceeding this past weekend. May 18 and 19. An International People’s Tribunal was held, initiated by the International Association of Democratic Lawyers and the Friends of the Filipino People in Struggle.

In its conclusion, the tribunal named Philippines President Ferdinand Marcos Jr., former President Rodrigo Duterte, U.S. President Joe Biden and the U.S. government all guilty of charges of war crimes and violations of international humanitarian law.

Over two days, testimony was presented by activists and victims from different parts of The Philippines about violence, torture and murder committed by the Armed Forces of The Philippines (AFP), or by paramilitary groups working under the direction of the government.

The organizers of the tribunal described these violence acts as war crimes. Experts opened the weekend explaining that there is, in fact, a war taking place in the Philippines. The government in Manila is carrying out a counterinsurgency strategy, and even using a counterinsurgency guide designed in Washington against the guerilla New People’s Army (NPA).

Witness Eufemia Cullamat testified about the desecration of her daughter’s body by the Armed Forces of The Philippines.  | Fight Back! News/staff

International legal experts, occupied communities combine efforts

The tribunal included distinguished attorneys with expertise in international law. Some acted as jurors, others as prosecutors. Heading the panel of jurors was Professor Lennox Hinds. Formerly the U.S. attorney for Nelson Mandela and the African National Congress, Hinds also represented Assata Shakur, and was a founding member of the National Alliance Against Racist and Political Repression.

The other jurors included Suzanne Adely, President of the National Lawyers Guild (U.S.); Severine De Laveleye of the Chamber of Representatives of Belgium; Julen Arzuraga Gumuzio of the Basque Parliament; and Archbishop Joris Vercamen, former member of the Central Committee of the World Council of Churches.

Much of the two days consisted of emotionally jarring testimony of torture, extrajudicial killings, mutilation of the bodies of political activists, and attempted murder of other activists.

One dramatic video statement came from Brandon Lee, a U.S. citizen who survived an assassination attempt by members of the AFP in 2019. Multiple gun shots left Lee paralyzed from the chest down. He recounted how the military threatened him over the course of several years to end his advocacy for the rights of the indigenous Cordillera people he was working among. Like his adopted countrymen, Lee refused to back down in the face of tyranny.

Another witness was Eufemia Cullamat, an elected member of the House of Representatives from the Bayan Muna slate, and a leader of the indigenous Manobo tribe.

Her daughter, Jevilyn Cullamat, was killed by the AFP in 2020 in Surigao del Sur, Mindanao. Eufemia Cullamat learned about it on Twitter, when soldiers used photos of Jevelyn’s dead body like a trophy, posing her with a rifle in her hands. Her daughter was reportedly a medic with the NPA.

Cullamat also reported how in 2015, the AFP carried out the Lianga massacre of their community. Jevelyn witnessed the killing of her Uncle Dionel and Grandfather Jovillo.

After the first day of testimony, reflecting on the activists who struggled through their anguish to get on the historic record, Professor Hinds commented, “What we see is a community resisting.”

Background: Two figures from Philippines revolutionary history

To put the human rights violations in context, testimony was presented by Juliet De Lima, head of the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) negotiating panel for the stalled peace talks with the government in Manila. De Lima noted that there is an underlying objective for the heinous crimes of the regime in the logic of counterinsurgency: to “Drain the water to expose the fish.”

The NDFP is the revolutionary united front organization of the Filipino people fighting for national freedom and for the democratic rights of the people. It includes the Communist Party of the Philippines and the New People’s Army. The AFP typically justifies the atrocities it commits against civilian activists they have targeted by claiming they are members of the NPA.

Early on in the tribunal, Connie Ledesma, also a member of the negotiating panel for the NDFP, explained why the national democratic movement has committed to a peace process with the government in Manila. For almost four decades the government and the NDFP have been engaged in peace negotiations. “From the perspective of the NDFP this could be a viable arena to achieve basic social, economic and political reforms in Philippine society,” Ledesma explained, and noted that the negotiations have resulted in 38 major agreements and joint statements.

Tribunal: Justice through solidarity

Prosecutors and jurors explained that while they use the laws that govern war and international human rights, the impact of the tribunal is political. The tribunal has no power to sentence Marcos, Duterte, or Biden to prison.

On the other hand, as has been seen in the case of the Gaza genocide being carried out by the U.S. and Israel, the court systems – whether in the Philippines, the U.S., or in existing international accountability structures like the International Court of Justice – are influenced by imperialist interests.

The International People’s Tribunal gives a voice to the oppressed Filipino people and can be used to help the national liberation movement, the peasants, indigenous people and workers to exact accountability on their oppressors. The national democratic forces know that it is the solidarity of those groups, along with youth and students, that will hold accountable the bureaucrat capitalists.

But a story from the solidarity movement with South Africa is worth recalling. Edward Said, the Palestinian intellectual, wrote in his 2000 book, The End of the Peace Process, about a visit with Nelson Mandela and Walter Sisulu of the African National Congress (ANC) in 1991.

Said had gone to see them to learn about using international boycott, divestment and sanction tactics against apartheid. Speaking with Sisulu, at that time the head of the ANC, Said writes, “He paused for a moment and then said something that I shall never forget as long as I live: ‘Every victory that we registered in London, or Glasgow, or Iowa City, or Toulouse, or Berlin, or Stockholm gave the people at home a sense of hope, and renewed their determination not to give up the struggle.’”

The International People’s Tribunal in Brussels is a victory for the people in Bicol, Cota Bato, Panay, Surigao del Sur. The legal process of collecting and presenting evidence of international human rights abuses and war crimes will be a tool to end the repression that emanates from Manilla.

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