By Janess Ann J. Ellao
This is the verdict of the recently-concluded International Peoples’ Tribunal (IPT) against President Rodrigo Duterte, US President Donald Trump, and international monetary organizations, which was held in Brussels, Belgium from Sept. 18 to 19.
Victims of human rights violations took turns in providing their respective testimonies before panelists from international human rights and lawyers organizations as they detailed how Duterte, Trump, and international monetary organizations violated the political and economic rights, and the right to self-determination of the Filipino people.
“The fact that Defendant Duterte was a president the people voted for, meant that the people had entertained the hope that they might expect a more democratic regime after years of rude dictatorship. That hope of the people implied a moral obligation of Defendant Duterte towards the people. The human rights violations that are proven by the different witnesses are therefore also a serious betrayal. On the contrary, he has persisted with quite disturbing viciousness in continuing previous governments’ gross and wholesale violations against the Filipino people,” the verdict read.
The IPT was convened by the European Association of Lawyers for Democracy and World Human Rights (ELDH), Haldane Society of Socialist Lawyers, International Association of Democratic Lawyers (IADL), Ibon International, and the International Coalition for Human Rights in the Philippines (ICHRP).
Cristina Palabay, Karapatan secretary general, said there were 169 politically-motivated killings under Duterte, out of which 104 were committed in Mindanao where martial law rule is currently in place. She added that they have also documented at least 11 massacres.
“It has been observed that there is a dangerous formula in these killings – a pattern that takes after the modus operandi widely used by the bloody regime of Gloria Macapagal Arroyo,” said Palabay, adding that these include the use of motorcycle in carrying out the killings, the concerted effort to make it appear as if it is a petty crime, and to dismiss it as an isolated incident.
Palabay also pointed out how Duterte’s counterinsurgency program, Oplan Kapayapaan, has been used to protect haciendas, plantations, and mining corporations, resulting in rights abuses against peasants and indigenous peoples, including the attacks against alternative tribal schools that teach students, among others, to defend their ancestral domain.
So far, nearly half a million Filipinos have forcibly evacuated due to militarization of their communities. Palabay said their tribal leaders, teachers, and students have been subjected to vilification.
Drug-related killings were also brought before the attention of the IPT jurors.
“Regardless if it is 4,000 or 23,000 killed, one killing is one killing is too many. These people are not just numbers. They are human beings,” said Ritche Masegman of Rise Up for Life, an ecumenical network of advocates against drug-related killings.
On political prisoners, persecution
Palabay said that instead of releasing political prisoners as earlier promised by Duterte during the peace negotiations with the National Democratic Front of the Philippines, many activists have been arrested, with nearly a thousand facing trumped-up charges.
“Those that they could not kill, the Duterte regime arrests, plants evidence against, and charges them with non-bailable crimes,” Palabay noted.
Eleanor de Guzman and Belle Castillo, who are daughters of detained peace consultants Rafael Baylosis and Ferdinand Castillo, respectively, testified before the IPT on the ordeal of their fathers.
The IPT also looked into the tirades of Duterte against activists and human rights advocates, and, most especially on women. Gabriela secretary general Joms Salvador said Duterte’s rape jokes are not a laughing matter in light of increased reported cases of rape, including in the president’s hometown in Davao.
“Women are vilified in a shocking fashion, scorned and ridiculed. Rape cases and other attacks on women have tremendously increased,” the verdict read.
Sr. Patricia Fox, an Australian nun who is currently being threatened to be deported after nearly three decades of serving the poor in the Philippines, also testified before the court and narrated her ordeal on the cancellation of her missionary visa. Duterte himself admitted he personally ordered her arrest.
“As a human being, as a religious, we have to stand with the oppressed,” said Fox, adding that the threats of deportation against her is a “human rights issue.”
Fox said the Duterte administration is hell bent on having her deported because his government could not take criticisms, especially on the human rights abuses in Mindanao.
For one, Katribu secretary general Piya Malayao, one of the witnesses, pointed out how Moro communities are also constantly militarized. She said that the infamous Marawi siege not only destroyed the culture and heritage of the Moro people but also resulted to their displacement.
The members of the media, too, were not spared, said Palabay.
Under Duterte, 13 journalists have been killed. This does not include those who were threatened or arrested during their coverage, such as the case of the arrest of five journalists from alternative media network, AlterMidya People’s Media Network, during NutriAsia dispersal.
On economic rights
The IPT also looked into the violations of the socio-economic rights of the people. Witnesses from various sectors provided their respective testimonies, which ranged from those discussing peasant, labor, housing, education livelihood, women’s rights, to migrant’s rights.
Raoul Manuel, deputy secretary general of the National Union of Students in the Philippines pointed out that education in the Philippines, most especially in colleges and universities, is largely a “capitalist education” as it is owned by big conglomerates.
Students are barred from joining progressive organizations. Campus newspapers are also being censored.
George San Mateo of Piston also assailed Duterte’s indifference to the plight of the jeepney drivers in the face of a jeepney phaseout.
“We are not against the jeepney modernization. We just want it to be socially just. But they won’t listen to us. They just want to carry out what they have initially planned,” Mateo said.
In tears, Celia Veloso, mother of Filipina on death row in Indonesia Mary Jane, talked about the ordeal of her daughter, who she said became vulnerable to human trafficking because of poverty.
The verdict stipulated that Duterte consistently failed to provide the basic rights of the people and has instead imposed new taxes that hit primarily the poor and the marginalized.
“Farmers are deprived of the lands they have tilled for ages and are attacked; workers are exploited and their strikes violently dispersed; the urban poor remain homeless and threatened when they assert their rights; education is commercialized and inaccessible to the great majority; thousands are forced to migrate daily including nurses under a labor export policy; the right to livelihood is curtailed; distressed overseas workers are neglected and abandoned,” the verdict read.
On the US role
Marjorie Cohn, former president of US’ National Lawyers’ Guild, also testified how the U.S. and the Philippine governments connived to violate the right of the Filipino people to self-determination.
“For the past 17 years, under Bush, Obama, and Trump, the U.S. government provides military support, which enables it to commit more crimes and crimes against humanity against its own people and deny them their right to self-determination,” she said during her testimony.
She cited that the US government’s Operation Enduring Freedom was used by the Philippines to wage war against its own people, which mostly targeted activists.
Cohn also hit the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement, which was signed between former President Benigno S. Aquino III and Barack Obama, that provided vast powers to American forces in Philippine soil.
Meanwhile, Duterte had a friendly meeting with Trump, which signaled the beginning of pro-US policies, including the resumption of joint military exercises and war games, adding that the US military support may hold their political and military leaders liable before the International Criminal Court.
Cohn revealed that for 2017 to 2018, the US government has provided more than $175 million in military assistance, allowing the Philippine government to carry out its new counterinsurgency program Oplan Kapayapaan.
The verdict stipulated that Duterte has “essentially demonstrated his allegiance to U.S. imperialist goals in the Asia-Pacific region. The Defendant Duterte government also overturned anew the victory of the people in removing US military bases,” due to the presence and expanding US presence in the Philippines.
The Philippine government did not send any representation to the two-day proceedings, which they dismissed as a mere “propaganda proceeding from the Left” and that it is a “sham.”
Jeanne Mirrer, president of the IADL, one of the convenors, said the tribunal is necessary to “create a people’s record of what is happening.”
“It is the moral authority of the people who are victimized, impoverished, and repressed by the governments and use its moral platform to fight back to build their own authority when states do not act to protect their rights,” she said.
Jan Fermon of the IADL, for his part, found it unfortunate that this is not the first time that the Philippine government has been found guilty by the International People’s Tribunal, citing the 1980 tribunal against former dictator Ferdinand Marcos, the 2005 tribunal against former President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo and former US President George W. Bush, and the 2015 tribunal against former President Benigno Aquino III and US President Barrack Obama.
All three past tribunals, Fermon said, found the governments of the Philippines and the United States and international monetary organizations guilty of gross crimes against the Filipino people.
The verdict pointed out that the narratives presented during the proceedings were “eerily familiar and oftentimes similar to previous violations that past peoples’ tribunals have covered. And yet the Defendant Duterte has created new forms of attacks and intensified the old ones.”
He added, “let us hope that this will be the last people’s tribunal on the Philippines. Let us hope that the Filipino people will be able to get rid of the domination of criminals that rule their country for decades.”