THE Permanent Peoples’ Tribunal based in The Hague, The Netherlands handed down a guilty verdict yesterday against Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and the Philippine government for “crimes against humanity” in connection with charges of extrajudicial killings, abductions and disappearances, massacres, and torture perpetrated against civilians. Romel Regalado Bagares, a former journalist now working as a lawyer who is in The Netherlands pursuing masteral studies, filed this report with the PCIJ.

GUILTY!

THE Hague, The Netherlands — The independent Permanent People’s Tribunal based in this international city on Sunday found the Arroyo administration responsible for “crimes against humanity,” and said the Philippines should be stripped of its membership in the 47-member United Nations Human Rights Council because the country’s continued presence in the international body seriously undermines its integrity.

Crimes against humanity are acts committed in both times of peace and of war as part of a widespread or systematic attack against a civilian population. Authorities are held responsible for the attack if subordinates launched it with their knowledge. These acts may include, murder, extermination, enslavement, torture, rape, or enforced disappearances of persons.

Members of the Permanent People's Tribunal

“The tribunal, having considered the evidence given before it,” the verdict said, “is of the opinion that the reported killings, torture and forced disappearances fall under the responsibility of the Philippine government and are by no way justified in terms of necessary measures against terrorism.”

Specifically, the panel found Philippine President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo guilty of colluding with her U.S. counterpart, George W. Bush, to perpetrate extrajudicial killings, massacres, and tortures of civilians in the Philippines in the name of the war on terror.

The panel stressed that the worsening human-rights situation Filipinos face in their country could not be divorced from a long-standing U.S. foreign policy of domination over its former colony as well as it strategies for “global economic and military hegemony.”

The panel found the two leaders and their governments responsible for:

  • Gross and systematic violations of civil and political rights; extrajudicial killings, abductions and disappearances, massacres, torture;
  • Gross and systematic violation of economic, social and cultural rights; and
  • Gross and systematic violations of the rights to national self-determination and liberation.

A body for the oppressed

Founded in 1979 in Italy by a group of law experts, writers, and other intellectuals, the tribunal was built on the idea of the oppressed peoples of the world asserting their fundamental rights under international law and directing the world’s attention to their cries for justice. It has since run 30 sessions on various issues around the globe.

A similar idea was also behind the creation of the International Women’s War Crimes Tribunal on Japan’s Military Sexual Slavery in 2000, which found the state of Japan guilty of gross violations of human rights and humanitarian law on account of its official policy to conscript women from China, Korea, the Philippines, Indonesia, and the Netherlands during World War II as comfort women.

After a five-day marathon session on the Philippine human-rights case, the panel zeroed in on Bantay Laya, the Arroyo administration’s counter-insurgency program, as the ill-advised “final solution” to the long-running communist insurgency in the Philippines conceived at U.S. behest. It is also the main reason why the extrajudicial killings, abductions and tortures have been directed against leaders and members of militant groups in “priority areas” identified by the program, the panel said.

The panel also said it found “unequivocal [pieces of evidence]” that the Philippine military “has a central role in the greatest majority of the scenarios of human rights violations in the Philippines.” It stressed that the Armed Forces of the Philippines is a structural component of the policy on the war on terror pursued jointly by the U.S. and Philippine governments, which fact should end debates about the direct or indirect participation of the Philippine military in human rights violations.

Symbolic – and significant

Strictly speaking, the panel’s findings are symbolic and judicially non-binding. It is the International Criminal Court, created in 2002 and also based at The Hague, which is the permanent tribunal that tries grave breaches of international law, including crimes against humanity. Heads of state accused of crimes against humanity may not raise a defense of state immunity before the international tribunal.

Audience rise up to applaud the tribunal's verdict.But over the years, the Permanent People’s Tribunal has had a certain measure of success in directing international attention to grave abuses of human rights in various countries, including the Philippines during the Marcos regime, the case of the desaparecidos of Argentina, and the repression suffered by indigenous peoples in Guatemala (with Nobel Peace Laureate Rigoberta Menchu testifying before one of its sessions).

Tribunal secretary Gianni Tognoni warned the Arroyo administration not to take its verdict lightly. “The Arroyo administration should remember that the Permanent People’s Tribunal has been convened in The Hague the capital city of international law,” said the Italian international lawyer.

He said copies of the 13-page verdict will be sent to various international bodies, including the International Court of Justice, the various embassies and legations in the Hague, and the Parliament of the European Union.

Official invitations had been sent to the embassies of the United States and the Philippines in Rome and The Hague to participate in the international forum, but neither had a representative at the proceedings. Tognoni noted how ironic it was that “those who say they don’t fear the rules of international law somehow don’t show up in such a proceeding as this.”

He said this only underlines the significance of the work of an independent body like the Permanent People’s Tribunal to hold into account governments and leaders for their disregard of the fundamental rights of citizens. In an apparent swipe at the way the Arroyo administration has belittled the tribunal’s influence, Tognoni said, “This means that when the tribunal speaks, it does not speak (about) nothing.”

‘Unprecedented’ gathering

About 200 people, consisting of Filipino expatriates, as well as activists, academics, and lawyers, rose from their seats to give the members of the seven-member panel a standing ovation after the verdict was read by the international opinion tribunal’s session president, Belgian lawyer Francois Houtart.

Seen among the audience at the Paxta Christi Kerk at The Hague were exiled Communist Party of the Philippines chair Jose Ma. Sison and former priest Luis Jalandoni, who heads the negotiating panel of the National Democratic Front in its peace talks with the government and a member of the organization’s executive committee.

Political exiles Jose Ma. Sison and Luis Jalandoni among other members of the audience.In 1980, it was the NDF, along with the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF), that paved the way for the opening of the first session of the international tribunal on the abuses of the Marcos regime — the very first in the international sphere.

“This gathering is unprecedented,” said Edre Olalia, one of the Filipino lawyers who helped put together the case against Arroyo at the tribunal. “We have seen how various groups worked together to bring the abuses in the Philippines to international attention.”

Houtart later said at the open forum following the reading of the panel’s verdict that members of the international community should exert more pressure on the Philippine government to put a stop to the spate of extrajudicial killings and abductions targeting members of militant groups in the Philippines.

He singled out the European Union as not having done enough on the human-rights situation in the Philippines, adding that member-states should make active representations not only with Manila, but also with Washington on the matter. Said Houtart: “The dramatic and worsening human rights situation in the Philippines is the responsibility for us all, not just for those who struggle for their rights in that country.”

A formidable panel

Aside from Houtart and Tognoni, the other panel members were Irene Fernandez, session vice president and a Malaysian lawyer and development advocate; and members Makoto Oda, a noted Japanese novelist; Ties Prakken, a professor of law at the University of Maastricht; Oystein Tveter, a prominent Norwegian human rights campaigner; and Lilia Solano, a Colombian activist.

Of the seven, only Houtart and Oda are veterans of the tribunal who trace their involvement in its works to the first session it had conducted on the Philippines during the time of the late strongman Ferdinand E. Marcos.

Houtart said since the first session on the Philippines in 1981 directed against the repressive Marcos regime, the human rights situation in the country has turned from bad to worse. He also said hideous economic realities Filipinos face today under the Arroyo administration only underscores the truth that nothing has really changed in the Philippines nearly a generation later.

He repeated an earlier warning he issued that the Arroyo administration would be held responsible for any harm that may fall upon witnesses whose testimonies had been presented to the tribunal during the proceedings.

A network of militant groups had pressed for the opening of the second session. The network includes HUSTISYA! (Victims of the US-Arroyo Regime United for Justice), SELDA (organization of political prisoners), Desaparacidos (organization of victims, relatives and friends of the disappeared), Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (BAYAN, New Patriotic Alliance), KARAPATAN (Alliance for the Advancement of People’s Rights), Public Interest Law Center, Peace for Life, Philippine Peace Center, IBON Foundation, United Church of Christ in the Philippines, and the Ecumenical Bishops Forum.

‘Astounding’ amount of evidence

The panel received evidence presented by militant human rights groups documenting with “painstaking detail” 839 cases of extrajudicial killings committed under the Arroyo administration.

The panel also received evidence from various international fact-finding missions sent to the Philippines to investigate the situation there, including a 40-page report presented by a Belgian lawyers’ association that who conducted a probe in the Philippines on the killings of lawyers and judges, as well as the findings of the Hong Kong Fact-Finding Mission and the International Peasants’ Fact-Finding Mission on the human-rights situation in the Philippines under the Arroyo administration. In addition, it took note of the findings of the Melo Commission as well as that of the UN Human Rights Council special rappourteur Philip Alston.

“The amount of documentary evidence we went over is simply astounding,” the 82-year-old Hooter told the PCIJ. “The pile of documents is about as tall as I.” He then volunteered that he stands at around 1.80 meters tall.

Recalling the proceedings of the first session on the Philippines, Houtart said that this time around, the panel “had more evidence to consider, more preparation, and a more professional approach in the way it conducted its proceedings — perhaps, because it has learned so much since the first session on the Philippines.”

Houtart is a veteran of Philippine political affairs. In the late 70s, Marcos expelled him from the Philippines after he conducted a series of church-sponsored seminars on how to do “structural analysis,” an activity that government authorities interpreted as euphemism for a Marxist-inspired politics.

‘Beyond expectations’

“This is beyond our expectations,” said Dr. Carol Pagaduan-Araullo, who read the indictment against two governments during the first of the five-day panel proceedings and is one of the complainants. “Somehow I feel that this verdict will be of tremendous importance to the struggle to bring to the world’s attention the real situation in the Philippines.”

Marie Hilao-Enriquez, secretary general of the militant human rights group Karapatan and one of the resource persons of the tribunal, fought back tears as she listened to the reading of the verdict. “We will not stop until the whole international community has learned the truth about the situation in the Philippines,” she said.

Senator Ma. Consuelo ‘Jamby’ Madrigal, who testified at the proceedings on the second charge against Arroyo, also said, “I am happy to say that the tribunal has exposed that the Arroyo administration is a dictatorship masquerading as a democracy.” She added that she will bring the results of the tribunals investigations to a forthcoming meeting of the Inter-Parliamentary Union.

The executive summary of the tribunal’s findings carried a message of solidarity with the Filipino people from another Nobel Peace Laureate, South African Bishop Desmond Tutu. In his message, the highly-respected Anglican clergyman demanded that President Arroyo act decisively and put an end to the spate of gross human rights violations happening under her watch. “The President of a country should be honor-bound to protect those who seek justice on your land,” he said. “Stop using the so-called war against terrorism to oppress and kill your own people!”

Tognoni read aloud the message of solidarity, an act that received a second standing ovation from the audience.

The 75-year-old writer Oda drew the third standing ovation when, speaking toward the formal close of the session, he noted, “This is now my second session. I don’t want to attend anymore a third session. I want to attend a celebration of the true liberation of the Filipino people.”

The Colombian activist Solano also drew loud applause and a fourth standing ovation when, with her voice breaking, she spoke of the many parallels that ran between the histories of her country and of the Philippines.

Romel Bagares, a 32-year-old Filipino lawyer, is currently working on a master’s degree in social and political philosophy on scholarship at the Vrije Universiteit te Amsterdam in the Netherlands, specializing on international legal theory.

2 Responses to Arroyo gov’t guilty of ‘crimes against humanity’ — Hague tribunal

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BY JOVE! » Blog Archive » GUILT

March 26th, 2007 at 4:28 pm

[…] A PCIJ stringer (Romel Regalado Bagares) filed a report about this development also, please visit their site. […]

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Feigning Ignorance: UN Report on Philippine Extra-Judicial Killings « Yaw and Mog

April 25th, 2007 at 9:55 am

[…] Arroyo Government Guilty of Crimes Against Humanity — Hague Tribunal: The Permanent Peoples’ Tribunal based in The Hague, The Netherlands handed down a guilty verdict yesterday against Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and the Philippine government for “crimes against humanity” in connection with charges of extrajudicial killings, abductions and disappearances, massacres, and torture perpetrated against civilians.   […]

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