“..The defendants, in concert with each other, willfully and feloniously committed gross and systematic violations of the Filipino people’s basic human rights.”
By JANESS ANN J. ELLAO
MANILA – The International Peoples’ Tribunal (IPT) found both the Philippine and the US governments guilty of violating civil and political rights, socio-economic and cultural rights, and the right to self-determination of the Filipino people.
In its verdict issued July 18 (EST), the tribunal said the two governments led by Philippine President Aquino, and US President Barack Obama conspired “by malevolent design” to violate human rights, “prevent development” of the Philippine economy, and trample on the sovereignty and integrity of the Filipino nation.
“Indeed, the prosecution has satisfied the burden of proving satisfactorily that the defendants, in concert with each other, willfully and feloniously committed gross and systematic violations of Filipino people’s basic human rights,” the verdict read.
It cited how Philippine state forces committed extrajudicial killings, disappearances, massacres, torture, arbitrary arrests and detentions and “other vicious, brutal and systematic abuses and attacks on the basic democratic rights of the people.”
The tribunal said the Aquino and Obama governments are guilty of violating the economic, social and cultural rights of the Filipino people through the imposition of neoliberal ‘free market’ globalization,” plunder of the national patrimony and economy, attacks on the people’s livelihoods and destruction of the environment.
The tribunal said the two governments had imposed the US war of terror, committed crimes against humanity and war crimes, branded the people’s right to national liberation and self-determination as “terrorism” and baselessly listed individuals and groups as “terrorist.”
The IPT is an opinion tribunal held from July 16 to 18 in Washington DC. It was organized by the International Coalition for Human Rights in the Philippines, International Association of Democratic Lawyers, National Lawyers Guild, and Ibon International.
The jurors who penned the verdict were renowned public interest lawyers, Azadeh Shahshahani and Camilo Perez-Bustillo, church leaders Rev. Malcolm Damon, Rev. Molefe Tsele, and Rev. Michael Yoshii, Prof. Pao-yu Ching and Canadian development worker Mary Boyd.
Copies of the verdict would be sent to the Philippine and US governments, and other concerned individuals and organizations, such as the Prosecutor´s Office of the International Criminal Court (ICC), the Inter-American, European, African, and Asian regional courts or systems, lawyers associations, human rights defenders, law schools, and human rights programs of study worldwide.
There were 34 cases with 32 witnesses presented before the IPT. Another 29 more cases were submitted for the jury’s consideration.
The verdict stated that the evidence presented proves that the violations were not random “as victims were specifically targeted, and their killing and/or abduction followed a pattern” as part of carrying out of the counterinsurgency plan, Oplan Bayanihan, with the combat assistance and financial aid of the US government.
Marie Hilao-Enriquez of Karapatan said in her testimony that under Aquino, 262 people were killed, 27 disappeared, 125 tortured, and 723 illegal arrested and detained.
She also said that there were 133,599 cases of threat, harassment and intimidation, 293 cases of illegal arrest without detention, 29,684 cases of restriction and/or violent dispersal of peaceful public assemblies, and 60,155 incidents of forced evacuation.
Victims of rights violations were first branded as supporters or members of the Communist Party of the Philippines and its armed wing, the New People’s Army, before being subjected to harassment and surveillance. This would lead to graver assaults such as killings and enforced disappearances, the verdict read.
“The Tribunal cannot also ignore the overwhelming evidence showing that the perpetrators were either police, military, paramilitary and/or other state agents operating within the chain of command. This is evident from the testimonies of witnesses pointing to them as the perpetrators,” the verdict read.
The verdict said that such testimonies show not only members of the state forces, but the Philippine government itself is linked to the killings and human rights violations.
In the verdict, jurors also noted how the Aquino government has failed to prosecute human rights violations of its predecessors – as in the case of torture victims Melissa Roxas and Raymond Manalo.
‘Filipino gov’t vs Filipinos’
In its findings, the tribunal said that neo-liberal policies were imposed by the US on the Philippine government through its controlled international bodies such as the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the World Bank, and the World Trade Organization.
Such policies “have been deeply planted and implemented in the economic framework of development of the Philippines, with the consent and even collaboration of the Filipino government against the Filipino people.”
“As shown by the evidence presented, profit-related interests have been the priority and, concomitantly, people’s rights come second. The profit-first policy outlined by globalization policy had grave repercussions on human rights, as nearly all witnesses explained,” the verdict read.
These policies have undermined land reform, national industrialization and social security, the verdict added.
Such situation has led thousands of Filipinos leaving every day to find work abroad, putting “most desperate Filipinos into extremely dangerous situations, such as in the case of Mary Jane Veloso, and hazardous work conditions.”
The tribunal found that the corruption has been institutionalized by the government through the controversial pork barrel system.
The government also failed to take concrete measures to mitigate impacts of disasters, as shown when Typhoon Haiyan hit the country, the verdict noted.
“In the course of the implementation of the US war of terror and intervention, the defendant US government together with the Philippine government, through defendants President Obama and President Aquino committed war crimes and crimes against humanity in violation of international law,” the verdict read.
Lopsided agreements such as the Visiting Forces Agrement (VFA) and the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) “violate Philippine sovereignty and the right to self-determination,” it said.
The botched police operation last Jan. 25 in Mamasapano town, Maguindanao is a proof that US troops actively participate in intelligence and combat operations, which the tribunal found illegal.
The tribunal also looked into the “terrorist tagging” of the US and the Philippine government on revolutionary groups in the country. The IPT said it “seriously condemns the continued efforts of the Defendants to abandon the peace process and address the roots of the conflict in the Philippines in order to achieve a just and lasting peace.”
“Truly, by malevolent design, the defendant Philippine and US governments have conspired to prevent or distort the development of the Philippines as they have prescribed and imposed policies intended to disregard and marginalize agriculture and national industrialization. That we have also satisfactorily proven before this tribunal,” the verdict read.
“The Filipino people must be allowed to chart their future as a people and struggle for their liberation from the exploitation and oppression by the Defendants,” the verdict read.
The jurors also encouraged “the peoples of the world to seek redress, to pursue justice, and to transform this oppressive, exploitative and repressive global state of affairs exemplified by the experience and plight of the Filipino people, to challenge the international ‘rule of law,’ and to construct a global order founded on full respect for the rights of all peoples, everywhere.”
The IPT verdict is only symbolic and not legally binding, but its convenors said it serves as “politically and morally binding.” This is the fourth international tribunal which tried a Philippine president for crimes against the people. In 1980, an international tribunal declared the dictator Ferdinand Marcos as guilty; President Gloria Arroyo was found guilty by international tribunals held in 2005 and in 2007.