State terrorism in the Philippines on trial​

State terrorism in the Philippines on trial

by Samira Homerang Saunders

On May 17-18, the International Peoples Tribunal session on the Filipino People vs. the U.S. Government and the Marcos and Duterte Regimes convened in Brussels, Belgium.

The Tribunal was convened by the International Association of Democratic Lawyers (IADL) and the Friends of the Filipino People in Struggle (FFPS), calling attention to the U.S. backed counter-revolutionary war in the Philippines under president Rodrigo Duterte (2016-2022) and current president “Bongbong” Marcos Jr., son of dictator Ferdinand Marcos who ruled over the Philippines for 20 years from 1966-1986.

For two days, evidence was heard from witnesses to support the charges against the US and Philippines governments.  Those charges included the killing and massacre of civilians and of torture, acts or threats of violence intended to spread terror among the civilian population, and forced displacement of civilians.  It particularly focused on the targeting of National Democratic Front of the Philippines consultants, peace advocates, activists, human rights and environmental defenders, humanitarian aid workers, journalists, and members of organizations who have been “red-tagged” as “fronts” for the Communist Party of the Philippines, for the New People’s Army or for the National Democratic Front of the Philippines.

This Tribunal built upon five preceding tribunals, beginning with the pivotal Permanent Peoples Tribunal session in 1980, the first international quasi-juridical body to condemn the U.S. sponsored Marcos dictatorship. The second tribunal was an International Peoples Tribunal (IPT) which took place in 2005 in Quezon city, Philippines. This session delivered a guilty verdict against the former president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo for gross human rights violations. The third tribunal in the Hague also indicted the U.S. backed Arroyo regime and the fourth IPT was held in Washington D.C. in 2015 to address the crimes of former president Benigno S. Aquino III, backed by the U.S. Obama administration. Finally, the fifth tribunal took place in 2018, also in Brussels, with a verdict that found former president Duterte and then U.S. president Donald Trump responsible for human rights violations.

The 2024 tribunal in Brussels once again addressed the crimes committed by the Duterte regime and the continuation of his anti-human policies under Marcos Jr., backed by the Biden administration. Both the Duterte and Marcos Jr. regimes have viciously terrorised the Filipino people, adopting a “whole of nation approach” through which the entire government machinery has been repurposed for counterinsurgency. The current indictment includes violations of International humanitarian law constituting war crimes, including the killing and massacre of civilians, abduction and torture, forced displacement, threats of violence, impeding humanitarian aid and relief, desecration of bodies and enforced disappearances. The indictment also cites serious violations of the Geneva Conventions, the ICCPR and the UNGA resolution 13/17 on the right of the people to self determination and the right to resort to armed struggle in the exercise of self-determination. Testimony from the tribunal maintained that since independence, the Philippines has been ruled by successive puppet governments in a semi-colonial and semi-feudal ruling system.

Historically, Filipino independence from the U.S. was preconditioned on the continued presence of the U.S. military. The 1946 Manila Treaty, which declared the independence of the Philippines also affirmed that the U.S. could continue to use military bases and other facilities deemed “necessary to retain for the mutual protection of the United States of America and of the Republic of the Philippines.” The Philippines remains the largest recipient of U.S. military aid in the Indo-Pacific region. Moreover, it was the birthplace of the US’s counterinsurgency or COIN strategy.  This strategy has a long history.  It was first perfected in the Philippines between 1899-1902 and then exported for use in US imperialist wars around the world.  It is essentially the same COIN program that terrorizes the citizens of the Philippines with impunity today. 

One important national figure whose story was told during the tribunal was that of Ka Randy, a lifelong activist dedicated to improving the lives of the rural poor. He was one of the NDFP consultants on the social and economic reforms agenda, significantly contributing to the interim peace agreements with the Duterte government in 2016 and 2017.

Ka Randy

President Duterte unilaterally dissolved the peace process and began to designate opposition organisations as terrorist.   In 2018, he introduced Executive Order 70. This order institutionalized the notorious “whole of nation approach” through which all government agencies are essentially repurposed for counterinsurgency, to crush “local communist armed conflict.”

On August 10th of 2020, during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic lockdown, Ka Randy was brutally murdered in his apartment. The autopsy report listed 40 stab wounds, a fractured skull from blunt force trauma, as well as a stab wound in the back which critically pierced his aorta. To date, no case has been filed and no perpetrators identified. Ka Randy’s story is unfortunately just one of many individuals who have been killed by state forces, abducted and tortured, forced to sign false confessions as well as many who remain disappeared.  While Martial law has officially ended, Marcos Jr. through his presidency has kept Executive order 70 in effect, thus retaining the “whole of nation approach.”

The tribunal heard from a number of activists across the islands who have been targeted, red-tagged, abducted or who have lost loved ones to massacres carried out by the AFP. From farmers associations, to schools and indigenous communities fighting to protect their natural environment from agribusiness and mining, it is evident that any and all members of Filipino society who desire self determination are labeled “terrorists” or “communist rebels” and face very real danger.

In the preliminary judgment, the five jurors of the IPT unanimously found the U.S. Government and the Marcos and Duterte Regimes guilty on all counts.

Samira Homerang Saunders is a researcher at the CCCCJ.
The verdict can be read here. The CCCCJ will host a Permanent Peoples’ Tribunal on State and Environmental Violence in West Papua on 27th-29th June.