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Victims of human rights violations launch Tribunal in Washington DC, Highlight US culpability in war crimes in the Philippines

WASHINGTON DC — In the first day of an International Peoples’ Tribunal in D.C. yesterday, victims and expert witnesses to torture, enforced disappearances, extrajudicial killings, forced evacuations, and violations of international humanitarian law gave testimonies drawing strong connection between the U.S. and Philippine governments’ collaboration and culpability in perpetrating these abuses.

Cynthia Jaramillo shared details on the torture and murder of her husband, a member of the New Peoples’ Army, along with 6 other combatants and 2 unarmed civilians in September 2014: “They were not killed during a legitimate running battle with the AFP. The state of their bodies when recovered clearly indicated the torture, willful killing, and desecration of the remains. Almost all of them suffered from non-encounter wounds according to the post-mortem reports and the review of evidence by forensic experts.”

She recounted, “Autopsy reports show that my husband Arnold Jaramillo was taken alive. He was killed at close range and his body had been desecrated. He was riddled with multiple gunshot wounds on his back and lower extremities. His internal organs appeared macerated and his body was porous like a sponge. He had multiple fractures in his upper and lower extremities. There was massive laceration of his upper lip, fractures in his upper and lower jaws and a shattering of both jaws inward into his throat so that the embalmer had to insert cement into his mouth to remedy the disfigurement.”

First day of hearings of the International Peoples' Tribunal
First day of hearings of the International Peoples’ Tribunal

Jaramillo stated of the perpetrators, “They openly identified themselves in newspaper articles, they were part of the 41st infantry battalion of the Philippine army of the AFP who belong to the Northern Luzon command.”

US supported crimes of war

The apparent torture and murder of Jaramillo’s husband by the Armed Forces of the Philippines, not in an armed encounter, but rather after he had been captured and disarmed, is a gross violation of international humanitarian law with respect to rules of combat in times of war.

Jaramillo noted, “The Philippine govt. had been signatories to international instruments on engagement on the rules of war. One of which is the Geneva Convention and protocols 1 and 2 on the ‘hors de combat’ on those that have been incapacitated to fight. There is also the Comprehensive Agreement on Respect for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law that the National Democratic Front and the Government of the Republic of the Philippines had agreed upon to protect the rights of civilians as well as combatants, but all these were violated by the military.” She continued, “This is the conduct of the Philippine government in the civil war that is going on in our country. It is patterned after the US counter-insurgency strategy and it is heavily funded by the US government.”

Targets of war crimes include unarmed civilians and US citizens

Also killed in the same attack as Jaramillo’s husband was unarmed civil engineer Fidela Salvador who had been in the area monitoring projects being implemented by her office. Jaramillo stated that Salvador was “a member of a Non-Governmental Organization, which has been politically vilified by the military” and subsequently “subjected to surveillance, harassment, threat, and other forms of human rights violations.”

She continued: “She was captured by the military in circumstances that we still have to establish, but the evidence of her wounds say that she was heavily tortured, that they repeatedly hit the back of her head with a blunt object before nine shots were fired upon her body blowing her heart and macerating her lungs.”

Melissa Roxas testifies during hearings of the International Peoples' Tribunal
Melissa Roxas testifies during hearings of the International Peoples’ Tribunal

Melissa Roxas, a US citizen from Los Angeles, also shared testimony of her own abduction and torture while participating in a medical mission in 2009: “When I was in Tarlac preparing for a mission, fifteen men in civilian clothing with high powered rifles, bonnets, and ski masks forced me and my two other companions, which were health workers into a van and took us to what I believed to be a military camp. In there, I was handcuffed and blindfolded and for the six days that I was there, I was repeatedly beaten, suffocated, and underwent other forms of torture.”

Roxas stated, “anytime that you work with the poor community, they automatically label you as the NPA and they try to vilify your work and justify the abduction and torture.”

Culture of impunity breeds a growing Peoples’ War

Though Melissa Roxas has testified in Philippine courts, her case has not been resolved. For her
husband’s case, Cynthia Jaramillo filed complaints with numerous government agencies including the Commission on Human Rights and Department of Justice, but has yet to receive the results of their investigation. Jaramillo asserted: “For Aquino, instead of ordering an investigation on these brutal killings he instead awarded all of those involved in the military operation, especially the officials, with medals of honor. Some of them were even promoted.”

“I urge this tribunal to hold President Benigno Simeon C. Aquino III, as the commander in chief of the AFP, directly accountable for the war crimes committed against my husband, the other members of the NPA, as well as the other civilians,” Jaramillo implored.

She closed with stating that joining the New Peoples’ Army “was one of the most difficult decisions my husband had ever made in his entire life because it meant leaving us his loved ones, his family, especially our two children. But he said, it is only through revolutionary armed struggle that we can dismantle the oppressive and exploitative system that has been causing great suffering among our people.”

The International Peoples’ Tribunal will continue through July 18, at which time the panel of jurors will issue their verdict. For more information and a live stream of the proceedings, visit: Interviews available upon request.

Berna Ellorin

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