Delaying release of slain combatants’ remains to their families a violation of international humanitarian law — Karapatan

Killing unarmed and/or wounded combatants and subjecting their families to inhumane and unjust acts by putting them “mercilessly and cruelly through the eye of the needle just to claim their loved ones’ remains” is a violation of international humanitarian law, human rights watchdog Karapatan asserted. 

Karapatan Secretary General Cristina Palabay assailed the “obvious scheme” of the Philippine National Police Regional Office 4A to delay the release of the remains of alleged New People’s Army combatants Dioscorro Cello, Rey Masinas, and Alex Perdeguerra to their immediate families as well as the killing of hors de combat Mario Caraig in Kalayaan, Laguna.

“In commemorating the month when the Geneva Conventions came into being, the police and military pay lip service to human rights and international humanitarian law through duplicitous and hollow statements of commitment while they continue to brazenly and shamelessly violate them by denying dignity to slain combatants and their bereaved families,” Palabay stated.

Cello, Masinas, and Perdeguerra were reportedly killed in a clash with the police last August 2 and their bodies were brought to Camp Vicente Lim in Calamba, Laguna; 11 days have passed since the armed encounter and their remains have yet to be returned to their immediate families, despite their presence and documentary proof.

Meanwhile, according to Karapatan - Southern Tagalog, Caraig was killed by the police last August 8; the police claimed that he allegedly started a gunfight as they were serving him a search warrant. Witnesses, however, asserted that he was recovering from a deep wound in his arm following an August 4 encounter, rendering him hors de combat under international humanitarian law. His remains have been finally returned to his family yesterday, August 12, while civilians Virgilio Asedillo, Chloe Asedillo, and Chloe's husband have been taken by the police for allegedly harboring Caraig; they were last seen in the Kalayaan Municipal Police Station.

Citing the Comprehensive Agreement on Respect for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law signed between the Philippine government and the National Democratic Front, the Karapatan official averred that “such delays violate the agreement as a breach of duty to immediately tender the remains of persons who died in armed conflict to their families and therefore tantamount to the desecration of their remains.”

“Don’t they have any ounce of humanity left? The police seems to have a fetish for hoarding and holding hostage the dead bodies of slain combatants as well as legal activists like Ka Randy Echanis as some twisted sort of trophies for their bloodthirsty and brutal killings. Not only does this government take pride in violating international humanitarian law, human rights, and signed agreements: they take pleasure in degrading and torturing the families of their victims,” Palabay continued.

Karapatan cited cases of international humanitarian law violations including the report of Karapatan - Southern Mindanao on the killing, torture, and mutilation of hors de combat Noel Gulmatico in Magpet, North Cotabato on July 1, 2016, whose postmortem examination cited the deliberate removal of his eyes and punctured wounds on his head by a sharp object. The medical examiner who conducted the said exam opined that Gulmatico had either been tortured or mutilated after he was captured by soldiers. 

The human rights watchdog also noted news reports on the killing of alleged woman combatant Cindy Tirado on April 15, 2019, during an encounter with the military in Brgy. Canacotan, Tagum City in Davao del Norte. Said reports cited statements from Tirado’s mother who belied that her daughter engaged soldiers in a firefight, that her daughter was still alive when the military had her in custody, and that she was tortured and shot in different parts of her body indicated by the victims’ genitals “shattered with bullets” and the fracture of both of her arms. 

“This isn’t the first and last time that the police and military have committed brutal violations of the laws of armed conflict with impunity. We call on the police to release Virgilio Asedillo, Chloe Asedillo, and her husband immediately, We strongly assert that the bodies of Dioscorro Cello, Rey Masinas, Alex Perdeguerra, and Mario Caraig be returned to their families and for the police to stop harassing their families who already suffering enough from their deaths,” she ended.