“Will the candidates respect, support and uphold the International Peoples’ Tribunal set to try multiple criminal charges against the Aquino government?”
By JANESS ANN J. ELLAO
MANILA – “Mahirap. Walang masyadong mapagpilian.” (It’s hard. There aren’t many options.)
This was how Karapatan secretary general Cristina Palabay described the possible presidential candidates for 2016. But she added that it is never too early to engage and challenge possible presidential candidates on the issue of human rights as local and international groups prepare for the international tribunal that would try both the US and Philippine governments for its rights abuses next month.
“We don’t need promises. Will the candidates respect, support and uphold the IPT (International Peoples’ Tribunal) set to try multiple criminal charges against the Aquino government? If the verdict comes out, will they deliver on its resolution once they assume office?” Palabay said.
The IPT, which will be held from July 16 to 18 in Washington D.C., would try both the US and the Aquino governments for rights abuses against the Filipino people. Charges include gross violations of civil and political rights, economic, social and cultural rights, and of the right to national self-determination.
Palabay told Bulatlat.com the possible presidential candidates “are rearing their heads this early.”
“It is a must for them to respond to these challenges to provide the Filipino people a view on their standpoint on issues,” she added.
Edita Burgos, mother of missing farmer-activist Jonas Burgos, said the impunity in human rights violations is the very reason Filipinos have very limited choices come election time. She said during the press briefing that the likes of Lean Alejandro and Edgar Jopson who could have led the country today were lost to human rights violations, and justice was never served to them.
Citing her son’s case, Burgos said the Court of Appeals issued a resolution back in 2013, which stated that the Jonas’ abduction is a case of enforced disappearance, and that Major Harry Baliaga and the Philippine Army were the perpetrators. It also directed the police to look into the “serious lapses” on its previous investigation. The resolution was upheld by the Supreme Court.
Jonas’ disappearance was also among the so-called priority cases being handled by the Department of Justice’s interagency committee investigating various cases of human rights violations, she added.
But the highest ranking military official involved, Maj. Gen. Edgardo Año, was even promoted as chief of the Intelligence Service of the Armed Forces of the Philippines, and later, promoted again and reassigned as commander of the 10th Infantry Division of the Philippine Army in Mindanao.
“This is a classic example of how impunity happens,” Burgos said, adding that implicated military officials are promoted to higher positions that would make them even more powerful and equipped to further violate the rights of the people.
Palabay said Año, who has been promoted twice under the Aquino administration, is now “waging war against the people of Mindanao.” The 69th Infantry Battalion, dubbed by human rights defenders as “Palparan Battalion,” she added, is now under the direct supervision of Año.
The battalion was implicated last week in the massacre of three civilians in Paquibato district, Davao city.
Salinlahi secretary general Kharlo Manano said at least 80 percent of troops of the Armed Forces of the Philippines are deployed in Mindanao. These military units, he said, have encamped on schools, red-tagged teachers and branded alternative schools for indigenous peoples as “schools of the New People’s Army.”
Also among those who joined the press briefing were: Nikki Gamara, daughter of a peace consultant of the National Democratic Front of the Philippines Renante Gamara, and Alyasa ng Magbubukid ng Asyenda Luisita spokesperson Christopher Garcia.
“Hacienda Luisita farmers are here because we want to remind the public that our issue is not yet over. It did not end with the Supreme Court decision ordering the distribution of the land,” Garcia said.
Based on credible, fair evidence
National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers (NUPL) Secretary General Edre Olalia, who will serve as the IPT’s clerk of court, told the media that the international tribunal court would be presided by impartial jurors.
Former US Attorney-General Ramsey Clark will lead the prosecution against the two governments that complainants accuse of committing crimes against the Filipino people. Clark, who is also a human rights lawyer, has consistently opposed US military interventions in Vietnam, Grenada, Panama, Nicaragua, Libya, Somalia, Iraq, the Balkans and Syria.
Its jurors, on the other hand, will include National Lawyers Guild former president Azadeh Shahshahani,
Committee on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples of the International Law Association Camilo Perez-Bustillo, South African Ambassador Rev. Dr. Molefe Tsele, and Economic Justice Network executive director Rev. Malcolm Damon.
Olalia said the indictment would be handed to the respondents at least 15 days before the IPT. Both the US and the Philippine governments may opt to send a lawyer to represent them in the trial, he added.
“The complaints, allegations and evidences, on its face, invite serious attention from possible presidential candidates and they cannot brush this aside,” he said.