War crime victims bear witness to US-directed Marcos and Duterte atrocities in the Philippines

On May 18, 2024, the International People’s Tribunal (IPT) issued a guilty verdict to Ferdinand Marcos Jr., Rodrigo Duterte, the Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP) and Joseph Biden representing the United States government for war crimes against the Filipino people and violations of international humanitarian law (IHL).

The guilty verdict of the IPT was founded on evidence and testimonies from witnesses who each recounted their personal ordeals and losses under the oppressive Marcos Jr. and Duterte regimes. Witness accounts provided a chilling picture of the extent and nature of the war crimes including extrajudicial killings, civilian massacres, enforced disappearances, and other human rights abuses.

Desecration of remains of slain NPA fighter

Eufemia Cullamat, former representative in the Philippine congress, took the stand with tears brimming in her eyes. Her voice trembled as she recounted how she learned about her daughter’s killing. Her 22-year-old daughter, Jevelyn Cullamat, was a member of the New People’s Army (NPA) slain by a 12-man Army Special Forces team in the mountains of Surigao del Sur on November 28, 2020.

Days after Jevelyn’s death, the military released photographs of her lifeless body with a rifle slung to her chest and surrounded by firearms and personal belongings. Soldiers also posed with the flags of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP), the NPA and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) displayed behind her corpse as soldiers grinned and gloated.

“I love my daughter dearly. I grieved her killing. But my grief was immeasurable when the military desecrated her remains. The military did not recognize her rights, the sanctity of life, and did not even have the decency to cover her dead body,” said Cullamat during her testimony.

Under customary international humanitarian law, parties to the conflict are required to respect the remains of those who died in combat. Thus, the verdict points out:

“The shocking conduct of GRP forces are blatant violations of the most fundamental rules of warfare: the duty to treat captured enemies humanely and to allow the fallen their dignity in death. Apart from being war crimes, these acts of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) expose an utter disdain for the principle of humanity and deserve the utmost condemnation by this Tribunal.”

Attacks against NDFP peace consultants

The tribunal also heard the case on the murder of Randall “Ka Randy” Echanis. Ka Randy was one of the peace consultants of the NDFP for the Comprehensive Agreement on Social and Economic Reforms (CASER). He was killed by five state agents in his apartment unit in Quezon City on August 10, 2020. His autopsy report revealed his cause of death as a stab wound to the back. His skull was also found fractured due to blunt-force trauma. His body was covered in bruises and multiple stab wounds indicating signs of torture. A sharp metal similar to an icepick was still lodged on his back when his body was sent for autopsy.

Ariel Casilao, former member of the Philippine House of Representatives spoke at the tribunal to testify on the killing of Ka Randy. Casilao said, “The barbarity, the brutality and the ruthlessness of the killing of Ka Randy is a crystal clear violation of IHL and all existing human rights laws in the Philippines. Ka Randy was an unarmed consultant of the NDFP. He had no involvement in combat operations.”

“Yet, the ‘counterinsurgency’ operation both by the previous Duterte administration and the present Marcos Jr. administration targets all, including unarmed civilians. They all consider us enemies of the state,” Casilao added.

Abductions, enforced disappearances and forced surrenders

On September 2, 2023, environmental activists Jhed Tamano and Jonila Castro were forcibly taken by military forces while they were walking after meeting with rural poor communities in Orion, Bataan. Their hands were tied, eyes blindfolded, and their mouths gagged with a piece of cloth and duct tape. The two activists would disappear from the public for more than two weeks. They would only be surfaced on September 19 in a press conference organized by the military that was supposed to coerce them to talk about how they willingly ‘surrendered’ as former NPA members.

To the shock of the military and the notorious red-tagging agency National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-Elcac), Tamano and Castro exposed the GRP’s lies and told the public the truth about their abduction and forced surrender eventually forcing their captors to release them after overwhelming public clamor.

Castro shared her harrowing experience in the hands of the military during her testimony at the IPT: “They subjected us to unending interrogation. They used death threats, such as putting us in one grave or cutting our tongue…The abductors told us we should never go back to activism, to advocacy work and to the movement, because if they ever get us again, they said there will be no more interrogation. They will just kill us.”

US culpability in war crimes vs the Filipino people

The findings of the tribunal further pointed to the role of the US government not just as a mere supporter of the GRP’s counterrevolutionary war against the Filipino people, but as its main instigator. The tribunal found US imperialism equally culpable to war crimes for designing, financing and in some cases even directly participating in combat operations.

Former parliamentarian and expert witness to the IPT Teddy Casiño testified: “The U.S. has supported every puppet regime that came to power, providing them with military arms and equipment, training and advice, sometimes even directly involving U.S. troops in combat operations.”

American lawyer, legal scholar and expert witness to the IPT Marjorie Cohn stated, “It is the Philippine government engaging in terrorism backed by the United States.”

“The NDFP is waging a war of national liberation through its armed component, the New People’s Army, in the exercise of the Filipino people’s inherent right of self-determination. The Philippine government, fully supported and enabled by the US government, has engaged in violent repression of the Filipino people through ‘counterinsurgency’ and ‘counterterrorism’ campaigns, and widespread violations of international human rights and humanitarian law,” Cohn added.