Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte and his government committed war crimes and crimes against humanity, aided and abetted by U.S. President Donald Trump and his administration, according to a recent ruling from the International Peoples' Tribunal on the Philippines.
The tribunal, which was held in Brussels, Belgium, on September 18 and 19, 2018, rendered its 84-page decision on these crimes on March 8. Conveners of the tribunal included the International Association of Democratic Lawyers, European Association of Lawyers for Democracy and World Human Rights, Haldane Society of Socialist Lawyers, IBON International, and the International Coalition for Human Rights in the Philippines. A panel of eight jurors from Egypt, France, Italy, Malaysia, the Netherlands and the United States heard testimony from 31 witnesses, including me.
These jurors ordered the defendants to make reparations; to provide compensation or indemnification, restitution and rehabilitation; and to be subjected to possible prosecution and sanctions for their crimes. Although the tribunal does not have the power to enforce those measures, its findings of facts and conclusions of law could be used to bolster the preliminary examination of crimes by the Duterte regime currently pending in the International Criminal Court (ICC).
"The Tribunal has finally rendered its historical and comprehensive decision," Edre Olalia, president of the National Union of Peoples' Lawyers (NUPL) in the Philippines, who also served as clerk of the tribunal, told Truthout in an email. "It is extensive in its presentation of the facts and evidence" and contains "an incisive elaboration of the nexus between the acts and omissions of Defendants and their accountability under a plethora of international instruments."
Olalia added that the decision "sends out a message loud and clear: a people continually victimized by authoritarian and repressive governments and exploitative entities will seek justice wherever they can before those who are willing to give them a fighting chance." Finally, Olalia said, "the decision remains ever more relevant to this day and time when the Filipinos are still struggling to ride out the storm of tyranny, brutality, corruption, misogyny and repression."
Much of this tyranny, brutality and corruption has been endorsed, whether implicitly or explicitly, by the United States. The unholy alliance between the Philippine and U.S. governments is long-standing. For the past 18 years, under Presidents Bush, Obama and Trump, the United States has continued to provide assistance to the Philippine government, which enables it to commit war crimes and crimes against humanity against its own people and deny them their legal right to self-determination.
After the 9/11 attacks, Bush declared the Philippines a second front in the war on terror, calling it "Operation Enduring Freedom-Philippines." The Philippine government used Bush's campaign as an opportunity to escalate its vicious counterinsurgency program against Muslims and individuals and organizations that oppose its policies.
The Philippine government labels specific people and groups as "terrorists," which makes them targets of the regime. The government also engages in "red tagging" political vilification. These labels can lead to harassment, assault, detention, torture and even murder. Targets are frequently human rights activists and advocates, political opponents, community organizers or groups struggling for national liberation.
Indeed, attorney Benjamin Ramos, secretary general of the National Union of Peoples' Lawyers, was assassinated on November 6, 2018, two months after the tribunal proceedings. "Atty. Ramos was a leading human rights lawyer in Negros, who passionately advocated for genuine agrarian reform and peasant rights," the NUPL said in a statement. Ramos was the 34th lawyer killed by the Duterte regime. Two more have been killed since.
The tribunal found Defendants Rodrigo Duterte and his regime, and Donald Trump and his administration guilty of gross and systematic violations of civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights; and the rights of the people to national self-determination and development.
Duterte is responsible for the crimes of his administration under the doctrine of Command Responsibility. Commanders are criminally liable for murders and other crimes committed by their subordinates if they knew or should have known they would be committed and they did nothing to stop or prevent it.
Liability for the Trump administration was based on its role as accomplice to Duterte's crimes. The Rome Statute of the ICC includes aiding and abetting liability for war crimes. An individual can be convicted of a war crime in the ICC if he or she "aids, abets or otherwise assists" in the commission or attempted commission of the crime. This includes "providing the means for its commission." The U.S. government supplied the Duterte regime with $175 million in foreign military financing in 2017 and 2018, and $111 million in 2019.