Human rights victims want Duterte guilty in international court

Former Bayan Muna representative Teddy Casiño, Karapatan deputy secretary general Jigs Clamor, mother of drug war victim Emily Soriano, and Moro leader Jerome Succor Aba announce the start of the International People's Tribunal on September 17 in Quezon City, Philippines.

“Disyembre 2016 noong sinabi ni Pangulong Duterte na huling Pasko na ‘yun para sa mga adik. Hindi ko inasahang kasama pala ang anak ko sa tinutukoy niya,” recalled Emily Soriano in a press conference in Quezon City on September 17. Emily is the mother of 16-year-old drug war victim Angelito Soriano.

(It was in December 2016 when President Duterte said that that Christmas would be the last for drug addicts. Never would I have thought that my son would be one of those he was referring to.)

Angelito was among seven people killed in a Tokhang police operation in Caloocan City on December 28, 2016. Emily recounted how she had been saving up for a toy gun to give Angelito for Christmas. He had wanted to be a soldier. He had no record of using drugs.

“Napakasakit para sa isang ina na mawalan ng anak, lalo na ‘yung anak ko na punong-puno ng pangarap,” Emily said. 

Emily is one of many complainants who will be giving her testimony against President Rodrigo Duterte at the International People’s Tribunal to be convened on September 18 to 19 in Brussels, Belgium.

Before a panel of jurors coming from different countries and legal backgrounds, human rights victims and basic sectors represented by Filipino mass organizations will put Duterte, in collaboration with the US government represented by Donald Trump, under trial for ‘crimes against the Filipino people’.

These crimes are what the IPT has grouped as violations of: (1) civil and political rights; (2) economic, social, and cultural rights; and (3) national sovereignty, development, and international humanitarian law.

The IPT is a global court convened by the European Association of Lawyers for Democracy and World Human Rights, Haldane Society of Socialist Lawyers, International Association of Democratic Lawyers, IBON International, and the International Coalition for Human Rights in the Philippines.

Countless crimes

What Duterte described in his third State of the Nation Address as more ‘relentless and chilling’ is seen as state-perpetrated ‘mass murder’ by IPT complainants. The crackdown against illegal narcotics, Oplan Tokhang, has claimed the lives of 23,000 people, mostly coming from underprivileged sectors. Another government oplan, so-called counterinsurgency program Oplan Kapayapaan, also has 160 cases of extrajudicial killing under its name.

Representatives of Moro and indigenous peoples will also file cases for violations committed under martial law in Mindanao. “Ang mga kasong inihapag sa mga korte dito sa Pilipinas ay hindi gumugulong. Imbes na nababawasan, nadadagdagan ang bilang ng mga pinapatay na Moro,” said Suara Bangsamoro chairperson Jerome Aba.

(Cases filed in Philippine courts are stagnating. Instead of a decrease, there is an increase in the number of Moro people being killed.)

Aba cited the massacre of seven Tausug youths on September 14 in Patikul, Sulu, who were mistakenly identified by troops of the Philippine Army Scout Rangers as members of the Abu Sayyaf Group.

Aba himself is also a victim of discrimination on grounds of religion when he was entering the US through the San Francisco International Airport in April.

Under martial rule in the Philippines’ southernmost island, rights group Karapatan has documented 49 cases of extrajudicial killing; 22 cases of torture; 89 cases of illegal arrest and detention; and cases of indiscriminate firing and aerial bombardment, victimizing 336,124 individuals.

The complainants will also file cases of political persecution and repression, as what fell on former justice secretary and current senator Leila de Lima; foreign missionary Sr. Patricia Fox; members of the press and media groups; and the more than 500 political prisoners around the country. Included in the list of political prisoners are Rafael Baylosis, Maoj Maga, and Bob Reyes, all labor activists and trade union leaders.

Representatives from the workers sector will also be present at the IPT to detail the Duterte government’s violations of economic rights, such as the right to just wages and the right to strike. The panel of jurors will hear testimonies from NutriAsia workers, Sumifru banana plantation workers, as well as members of transport group PISTON.

Other violations of economic, social, and cultural rights are the imposition of the Tax Reform for Acceleration and Inclusion (TRAIN) Law; labor-only contracting; landlessness and harassment of peasants; negligence over the plight of distressed overseas workers; lack of decent mass housing; and misogyny demonstrated by no less than the President himself.

Violations of international humanitarian law and the right to indigenous peoples’ self-determination include the massacre of seven National Democratic Front personnel in August; cases of attacks on schools leading to closure by state forces; and airstrikes in different indigenous communities.

“The continuing impunity of killings, state violence, and other crimes against the Filipino people compel us to file these cases against the regime. The judicial system itself is under attack in the Philippines. Hence, an impartial tribunal recognized internationally can serve as moral suasion to stop the attacks and make the regime accountable for its crimes,”  Teddy Casiño of Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan) said in a statement.

What next?

Should the government represented by Duterte be found guilty or not guilty of the above-stated charges, the IPT will forward the verdict to courts of law, such as the International Criminal Court. While Duterte announced the Philippines’ withdrawal from the ICC under the Rome Statute, the Court’s rules do not recognize the pull-out of any state until after one year from receiving the notice of withdrawal.

Meanwhile, rights groups in the Philippines are calling on Filipinos to participate in a Martial Law commemoration protest in Rizal (Luneta) Park on September 21.

“Hanggang kailan tayo magtitiis na puro patayan at gutom? Ayaw po naming manahimik, kaya handa na kaming magsalita at magsampa ng kaso,” Emily said.

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