The International People’s Tribunal has found President Duterte guilty – now the international community must do the same

The International People's Tribunal has found President Duterte guilty – now the international community must do the same

A picture of Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte is shown on a banner during a rally, held on 21 September 2018, to call for an end to the mass killings committed during his so-called ‘war on drugs’.

(AP/Aaron Favila)

Over 100 people from many countries took part in an intense and emotional judicial process in Brussels, Belgium on 18 and 19 September 2018, in an attempt to focus international attention on the terrible human rights situation in the Philippines under President Rodrigo Duterte.

Filipino witnesses at the International People’s Tribunal (IPT) provided either expert evidence as community leaders and researchers, or personal evidence of horrific events suffered by their family members since Duterte came to power on 30 June 2016.

Each of the 31 witnesses had only a maximum of 20 minutes, and the accounts were often delivered in tears. The atmosphere only intensified at the time of the final summing up and call for a guilty verdict.

The lengthy delay while the jurors deliberated did not break the spell of anger, grief and determination to make change. And when the verdict of ‘guilty on all counts’ was delivered, there was a great cry of both relief and anger that the terrible truth of the Duterte presidency had been heard and recognised.

Fourteen Filipino peoples’ organisations, including the KMU (Kilusang Mayo Uno, or May First Movement) Labor Center, had made the complaint against President Duterte, President Trump, the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank and the World Trade Organization, as well as the numerous multinational corporations and foreign banks doing business in the Philippines.

The charges were of gross and systematic violation of civil and political rights, economic, environmental, social and cultural rights, and the right to national self-determination and development, as well as violations of international humanitarian law.

Jimmylisa Badayos spoke early in the trial. Her father Jimmy had been a trade union activist at the Atlas copper mine in the province of Cebu in the 1980s, before he was arrested in October 1990. He has never been seen again but his disappearance led his wife and children to become activists.

In 2010, Jimmylisa’s mother Elisa became an organiser for the Karapatan Human Rights Alliance in the province of Negros Oriental. On 28 November 2017, while leading a 13-person fact-finding mission, she was riding her motorcycle to the City Hall to make a complaint. Another rider came close and shot Elisa and two others with her. The killer shot Elisa again as she tried to crawl away.

Jimmylisa rushed to the hospital but could find no pulse when she touched her mother’s body. She strongly suspects the military killed her mother, who had been receiving many death threats.

The panel of eight jurors at the Tribunal comprised veteran founder of the International Association of Democratic Lawyers Roland Weyl and General Secretary of the Permanent Peoples Tribunal Gianni Tognoni. From the USA, human rights attorney Azadeh Shashahani was in attendance as was former Workers World Party presidential nominee Monica Moorehead and Reverend Michael Yoshii. Meanwhile attorney Ties Prakken came from the Netherlands, as did activists Mamdouh Habashi and Sarojeni Rengam from Egypt and Malaysia respectively.

Duterte’s campaign of destruction

President Duterte mobilised very high hopes for positive change in the Philippines during his campaign for the presidency in early 2016, despite using some very dark language promoting rape in general and the arbitrary killing of drug suspects. But within weeks of his inauguration on 30 June 2016, it became clear that his vote-winning ‘pro-poor’ policies would not be implemented.

Promises to the workers to increase the minimum wage and to end the short-term contracting of jobs were never fulfilled. His pledge to fight corruption has floundered and peace talks with the Maoist-led guerrillas of the National Democratic Front of the Philippines to stop nearly five decades of conflict ended in an orgy of violence in Mindanao. And there has been a relentless stream of extrajudicial killings of peasant and worker leaders across the country.

But it is President Duterte’s ‘war on drugs’ that best demonstrates the horror of his presidency. It has been estimated that 23,000 people have been killed as a result of the president’s ‘war on drugs’, of which the police themselves claim 4,410 deaths. Impunity is the norm. Duterte has threatened lawyers who defended drug suspects, and the killings of lawyers, prosecutors and judges has almost doubled.

More broadly, Duterte has had the Chief Justice unconstitutionally removed, he’s dismissed the female Ombudsman, and threatened to close the Commission on Human Rights. Trumped-up charges were laid on a senior senator, Leila de Lima, to silence her criticism.

Phoney murder, kidnapping and firearms charges are showered on human rights defenders as well as union organisers to tie these organisations down. Media workers and publishers are killed, arrested and harassed.

President Duterte has repeatedly made public endorsements of rape by police and soldiers, and even offered “42 virgins” to Indian investors in the Philippines. In the first year of the Duterte presidency there were 9,943 reported cases of rape, which was a 50 per cent increase on the average number reported over the previous 10 years. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the highest rate of reported rape cases is now in Davao City, where Duterte was formerly mayor.

On 23 May 2017, President Duterte declared martial law on the southern island of Mindanao (the second largest in the Philippines) in response to a shootout between a large police unit and what is known as the ‘Maute Group’ of Islamic fundamentalist fighters in the city of Marawi. Bombardment by artillery and aircraft began within a few days and by the end of the fighting on 17 October, the heart of the city was destroyed, and over 400,000 people were displaced. At least 1,500 civilians were killed during the violence, and today over 300,000 people are still locked out of ‘ground zero’ and have had their lands seized by the military. Many hundreds were arbitrarily arrested and are still in detention, denied due process.

In November 2017, President Duterte unilaterally shut down substantive peace talks with the National Democratic Front of the Philippines, ordered the arrest of its certified ‘peace consultants’, and ordered the bombing of remote indigenous people’s schools. Over the last 15 years, the indigenous peoples of Mindanao have organised their own schools to educate their children, with a focus on sustainable agriculture, as the government had never delivered education to them. Of 226 schools in this network, 58 have been closed, while many are greatly disrupted by the paramilitary murder of teachers and students, as well as the military’s temporary occupation.

Crimes against humanity and war crimes

In terms of the collective rights defined by various United Nations Conventions, the Filipino people suffer poverty levels at over 70 per cent and real unemployment at over 30 per cent. Youth unemployment is at 46 per cent, and 40 per cent of these are college graduates. Emigration as contract workers is a major option and high numbers of Filipino migrant domestic workers are exploited in the Gulf and Middle East. Workers at home are denied the right to organise and collectively bargain by a vicious combination of legal restrictions and direct violence on picket lines, rallies and individual leaders.

Under President Duterte there has been a loss of 1.8 million jobs in the agriculture sector. Landlessness is a major driver of class conflict. Duterte has imposed a new tax program called TRAIN which cuts personal income tax but increases indirect taxes and has had a devastating effect on the poor. Almost 80 per cent of the TRAIN revenue goes to a government infrastructure program called “Build, Build, Build”, based on public-private partnerships, while the public health and housing budgets have been cut 70 per cent.

The US government provides US$175 million per year to the Philippines for its main counter-insurgency program, Oplan Kapayapaan (Operational Plan Peace), of which US$12 million is allocated for the anti-drugs campaign. The country is in fact dominated by United States geopolitical and corporate interests, denying the Filipino people of their right to self-determination.

The IPT has packaged the evidence required for a real judicial process in any jurisdiction willing to take up cases of crimes against humanity and war crimes. The participation of such eminent jurors in the IPT, and the credibility of the legal associations which co-convened the Tribunal, should lead to serious consideration of these options in Europe and North America, as well as at the International Criminal Court (ICC).

As well, the European Parliament, the US Congress, and the Canadian and Australian parliaments will have the opportunity to review their military and economic aid and cooperation with the Philippines in the light of this refreshed information on the human rights abomination they are funding.

The mobilisation of the international community to stand in solidarity with the Filipino people against the Duterte administration and its support from President Trump is a major objective of the IPT. Trade unions have a strong role to play in this.

Greater international support from all levels of civil society and government is what the Filipino people need now, as it is they, in the end, who will remove Duterte. Already the guilty verdict, coming just prior to the one-year 21 September anniversary of Marcos’ Martial Law declaration, has been a huge morale booster among Filipino democrats of all shades.