“This tribunal will contribute to this record and, hopefully, the people will use its results to end impunity.”
By JANESS ANN J. ELLAO
MANILA – The International Peoples’ Tribunal (IPT) has began hearing the testimonies of victims of human rights violations, by both the Philippine and US governments, on July 16 in Washington DC.
“At the time when impunity reigns, it is important for the people to make a record of the violations of their rights, including violations of the international humanitarian law, the rights of the people under the covenants of civil and political rights, covenant on economic, social and cultural rights,” Jeanne Mirer, International Association of Democratic Lawyers (IADL) president, said.
“This tribunal will contribute to this record and, hopefully, the people will use its results to end impunity,” Mirer said.
The IPT is a “tribunal of conscience” that would try the Philippine and the US governments on three charges: violations of the peoples’ civil-political rights, socio-economic rights, and the right to self-determination. The IPT will be end on July 18 (US time).
Both Philippine and the US governments were notified about the IPT and sent a copy of the indictment via registered mail. They did not send their respective legal representation before the IPT. The jurors consequently ruled that their right to legal representation has been waived.
The prosecution team would present 32 witnesses, of whom 17 will personally testify, 10 via Skype and five through video depositions.
One of the witnesses, women’s rights leader and former lawmaker Liza Maza was barred from travelling to the US from Manila, as the airlines ground crew prevented her from boarding her flight. The Korean Air cited receiving an email from the Customs Border Protection of the US Department of Homeland Security. She has a valid 10-year multiple entry visa to the US.
There were 16 witnesses presented on the first day, July 16.
“It has been emotionally draining. My youngest daughter is still having nightmares, calling out to her father,” Corazon Capalla, said during her testimony. Her husband, Romeo, a long-time activist, was killed by suspected state forces in Iloilo province in 2014.
Some of the cases presented before the IPT were filed before Philippine courts. But these were either dropped due to purported lack of evidence and witnesses, or the high-ranking military officials were spared from charges.
Security guard Rolly Panesa, in his testimony in Washington DC, recounted his harrowing experience from the hands of the military and the police who tortured him to falsely admit that he is Benjamin Mendoza, an alleged ranking official of the New People’s Army.
Some cases did not reach the court, such as in the disappearance of Jully Devero and two other farmers Michael Celeste and Gerald Abale on July 19, 2011 in Enrique B. Magalona town in Negros Occidental. Their abductors were believed to be members of the Revolutionary Proletarian Army-Alex Boncayao Brigade (RPA-ABB). The paramilitary group now serves as a multiplier force for the military.
Devero’s wife Leila, who is also a witness to the abduction, testified before the IPT through a video deposition.
Victims of human rights violations were branded as either members or supporters of the New People’s Army (NPA).
“I fear for my safety. But I continue to do my advocacy. But with extra precaution,” former political detainee Zara Alvarez said in her testimony.
Alvarez became a subject of vilification by the military in Negros Occidental before she was arrested on Oct. 30, 2012. She was accused of killing a soldier along with 52 other respondents. Rights activists said the trumped-up case was meant to silence activists. She was released on bail last year due to mounting pressure.
Lawyer Maria Catherine Salucon, who is based in the Cordillera region, gave testimony on the “systematic harassments and threats” from state security forces. She was tagged as a “Red lawyer” and was put in the so-called Order of Battle, a military hit list.
“When you are fighting for the truth and justice, for peace and democracy, they will call you Leftist. They will call you a supporter of the Communist Party or of the communist terrorist. And when they call you such, you will become part of the hit list or watch list. After being tagged as a communist supporter, you could become a subject of harassment, threat, surveillance and eventually disappearance, and even death,” she said.
Salucon filed for a writ of amparo and habeas corpus, which was granted by the Court of Appeals on March 12. But despite the ruling, the surveillance and harassment continued not only on Salucon, but also her colleagues and even her clients.
Salucon’s colleague, paralegal worker William Bugatti was killed in March 2014. He was also subjected to threats and surveillance prior his killings, believed to be perpetrated by the military.
Among those who also gave testimonies were Bishop Solito Toquerro, Cynthia Jaramillo, wife of Arnold Jaramillo, slain NPA leader and one of the so-called Lacub martyrs, and filmmaker and rights activist Bonifacio Ilagan.
“Dear jurors, I could not really expect justice from the Philippine courts. That’s why I am here before the tribunal and brought, not only my plight, but of all human rights defenders, (to ask the tribunal) to consider this and indict the accused,” Salucon said.
Salucon said rule of law in the Philippines is a mere “myth,” in light of the rampant rights violations in the country.
Though not legally binding, convenors of the IPT said the result is politically and morally binding. There had been three international tribunals which tried Philippine presidents Ferdinand Marcos and Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, who were both found guilty. Arroyo was found guilty by international tribunals held in 2005 and in 2007.