Karapatan: Duterte is the number one war criminal in the Philippines

Photo by Bulilit Marquez/Associated Press

As the country observes the International Humanitarian Law Day, human rights alliance Karapatan tagged President Rodrigo Duterte as the “number one war criminal in the Philippines” for “openly ordering and facilitating a campaign of mass murder that has killed and violated the rights of thousands of civilians in his desperate bid to crush the decades-long communist insurgency in the Philippines instead of addressing the roots of armed conflict, on top of his blatant aversion to upholding human rights and his other bloody crimes against the Filipino people.”

“It is pure hypocrisy for the Duterte government and its militarist bloodhounds to commemorate the day the Geneva Conventions came into being when they commit some of the worst violations against it, from targeting civilians — especially activists and human rights defenders — in the government’s brutal counterinsurgency campaigns through killings, arbitrary arrests and red-tagging to forcibly displacing communities to military operations and mercilessly killing sick and wounded combatants who are considered hors de combat to brazenly desecrating their remains,” Karapatan Secretary General Cristina Palabay stated.

Palabay, in particular, cited the killings of National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) peace consultants Julius Giron, Agaton Topacio, Eugenia Magpantay, and Reynaldo Bocala and NDFP Mindanao spokesperson Alvin Luque in police and military operations, as she averred that “the narrative that these elderly, sickly and unarmed consultants engaged in a shootout or ‘nanlaban’ is simply unbelievable, especially when they are already suffering from various ailments. These killings are clearly cold-blooded murders and violations of the rights of persons under international humanitarian law.”

“Such utter disregard for the rules of war extends even beyond death as there seems to be an utterly degrading and disgusting policy to desecrate the remains of slain rebels — from the police and the military parading the pictures of their bloodied corpses on social media like war trophies like what they did to Rona Jane Manalo, Andrea Rosal, and Jevilyn Cullamat to cruelly making their families suffer by refusing to immediately tender their remains. This regime not only takes delight in killings: it revels in the corpses of those it has murdered,” the Karapatan official continued.

On December 4 last year, Karapatan filed before the Office of the Ombudsman criminal and administrative charges against the ranking officials of the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC) for red-tagging Karapatan and its officers and members. In the complaint, Palabay asserted that red-tagging violates the principle of distinction under international humanitarian law such that, “[c]onsequently, red-tagged civilians become targets of different forms of attacks and even armed violence by State forces.”

“Red-tagging marks civilians and their organizations as targets of military operations by publicly vilifying them as ‘communists’ or ‘terrorists,’ and such rhetoric sets the stage for State forces to justify acts of violence against individuals tagged as ‘enemies of the State.’ Even the ‘nanlaban’ narrative in the drug war is now being increasingly used as an extension of red-tagging, with the police and the military peddling the lie that activists killed in raids were actually armed rebels who fought back to obscure the fact that they were murdered in cold blood,” the Karapatan official said.

She reminded that the Philippine government is a party to the Comprehensive Agreement on Respect for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law (CARHRIHL) together with the NDFP and, as such “both parties affirmed the applicability of the 1949 Geneva Conventions and its 1977 Additional Protocols which stipulate prohibitions on attacks against persons hors de combat, practices on the treatment and return of the remains of the dead, and to mitigate casualties and violence during armed conflict such as forbidding parties to make civilians the object of their attack.”

“Instead, Duterte and his cabal of warmongers in the NTF-ELCAC are blatantly flouting international humanitarian law by repeatedly ordering the police and military to kill all communist rebels while red-tagging activists, opposition politicians, human rights defenders, peasant organizers, peace advocates, unionists, journalists, indigenous leaders, church workers, and environmentalists. Duterte is inciting violence and war crimes against anyone who dares to stand in the way of his bloodlust and tyrannical delusions,” Palabay stated.

“We call on the Office of the Ombudsman to act on our complaints and to hold accountable the officials of the NTF-ELCAC for their red-tagging and war crimes as we assert the call to abolish the NTF-ELCAC for facilitating violations of international humanitarian law and other fascist attacks on the people. War crimes will never resolve the roots of armed conflict nor bring just and lasting peace in the Philippines — and a war criminal like Duterte should be made to pay for the blood of thousands upon his hand,” the Karapatan official ended.