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war crimes

Whitewash and the need for the ICC

Its highly unlikely that attention-starved congressmen will agree to scrap the House of Representatives hearing of the Mamasapano massacre on their own.

To begin with, while the hearings in the bigger House were less composed when compared to the hearings in the Senate, more information came out of the lone House investigation.

Rep. Neri Colmenares singled out some of these new information, to wit: “a) the text message of Gen. Rustico Guerrero confirming that Pres. Aquino knew about the Mamasapano incident earlier on January 25, (b) the admission by Gen. Napeñas that Pres. Aquino knew about the time on target coordination and approved it which means Aquino agreed not to coordinate with the AFP beforehand, (c) the claim to executive privilege of Gen. Purisima, (d) the Medico Legal report emotionally described by Gen. Espina; and (e) the admission by Gen. Catapang that he did not inform Pres. Aquino even if they were together in Zamboanga that day”.

So why did the House suspend its hearing? The official reason is to avoid “prejudicial conclusions” since the official Board of Inquiry findings still have to be written.

But that reasoning is crap. Congress is never bound by the findings of any other investigative body. When Congress conducts an inquiry in aid of legislation, it is in the exercise of a plenary power that cannot be limited by any other branch of government. What is a legislative in purpose is also within the powers of Congress to define.

Moreover, Congress may also conduct investigations in the discharge of its power of oversight, that is, as holder of the power of the purse, it should ensure that government agencies are doing their job pursuant to the budget allotted to them. Hence, it was but proper that Congress inquire on whether the PNP, the AFP and the DILG spent tax payers wisely and correctly in this bloody police operation.

So why did the House suspend it proceedings? I think the truth is obvious. The PNoy administration, including its allies in the House of Representatives, are now afraid of the truth. Already, the subsequent Senate hearings on the matter indicate that the President clearly knew about the plan to capture Marwan et al in Mamasapano, that he continued to utilize the services of the suspended PNP Chief Alan Purisima in connection therewith, and that confidentiality was required because they knew that even the AFP, with its leadership committed to the Peace talks with the MILF, might leak information that may prove detrimental to the capture of the high value targets.

Questions are now being asked on when the President knew that the SAF 44 were under siege. The question which has not been asked is why the President did not order the AFP to provide reinforcement to the besieged 55th Company of the SAF and why? Many, including I, surmise that the President, like AFP Chief of Staff Catapang, played God and decided to sacrifice the lives of the SAF 44 in order to protect the ceasefire with the MILF.

There too is the question of why US operatives were involved in the operation beyond the giving of the $6 million bounty for Marwan, dead or alive. While many shrug off the American involvement as necessary since we do not have the technology to acquire the proper intelligence information required by the operation, the reality is that the 1987 Constitution prohibits even just the presence of foreign troops, bases and facilities in the country after the termination of the US-Philippine Bases Agreement in 1991. The only way these foreign troops can be in the country is through a treaty duly concurred not by a mere majority of the members of our Senate , but by 2/3 of all its members, and even ratified by the plebiscite by the people themselves, when so required by the Senate. And these stringent requirements is only for the purpose of allowing foreign troops, bases and facilities in our territory. Compliance with the imperative requirements is not even sufficient to allow foreigners to be engaged in actual police or battle operations in our country. Such is absolutely prohibited because such an involvement would simply violate both Philippine sovereignty and jurisdiction. Full stop.

So what now? The House has suspended its hearing and the senators, on the other hand, appear complicit in hiding the truth from the people by holding its hearings in “executive sessions”. Clearly, the Senate, in doing so, although clearly more independent than the House, appears to be susceptible nonetheless to palace cajoling to keep the truth from the people.

I have said from the beginning that where political considerations, both of the selfish and the policy types, i.e., the necessity of proceeding with the peace talks, come into the way of the fight against impunity, the country must utilize the full benefits its membership in the International Criminal Court. The Court was established, and we joined the Court, precisely because those who violate the most important norms of international law, such as those who commit war crimes, should be prosecuted, no matter what. The ICC prosecutor, would moreover, have the proven expertise to investigate these possible war crimes when compared to the DOJ Prosecutors that has zero experience in this regard. Besides, with the Maguindanao massacre prosecution in limbo after almost six years, coupled with the DOJ’s 1-percent conviction rate in the prosecution of extra-legal killings, its clear that our legal system is simply both unable and unwilling to investigate the leadership and men of the MILF for the possible war crimes committed against the SAF44 and the Filipino people.

Time to seek aid from the international community. Lets refer the Mamasapano massacre to the ICC!

Philippines should Protest Statement of Japanese Mayor that Comfort System was necessary (For Immediate release)

ref: Prof. H. Harry L. Roque, Jr


The Philippine government should formally lodge a diplomatic protest with the Japanese government against the statement by Osaka Mayor Tori Hashimoto  that  the so-called “comfort women” of WWII served a “necessary” role by keeping troops in check. According to this obviously insane Mayor, ” soldiers living with the daily threat of death needed some way to let off steam which was provided by the comfort women system”. There are at least 200,000 women who were made to serve in these comfort stations in Korea, China and the Philippines.

The statement is crass, obscene, and is an attempt to justify a criminal act under international law. Specifically, rape and all forms of degrading and humiliating treatment committed in the context of an armed conflict -have always been illegal under oith customary international law and under the Geneva Conventions. Moreover, since it was publicly made by an elected agent of the Japanese state, the statement is an official pronouncement of the state Japan nonetheless, pursuant to the Articles of State responsibility. These articles, codified in the form of a UN general Assembly resolution, provides that all acts and /or statements by state organs may give rise to attribution to the state

Instead of justifying this war crimes, the Japanese government publicly apologize for this systematic criminal act and pay reparations to their victims.

We are in the process of studying further legal options against the Mayor of Osaka and the Japanese government for this criminal statement.

Disclosure:  As Chair of the Center for International Law (Centerlaw), I  represent the  Malaya lolas, a group of women who were raped systematically during World War II in their hometown of Candaba, Pampanga.

Lessons from Boston


Lessons from Boston.

Copadoccia, Turkey—I was in Boston with my family just two weeks ago. I thought it was important for my two children to visit the city and appreciate its anti-colonial heritage. The US was not always its own state. It too had to struggle for its independence, much in the same way that we did against the Spaniards and ironically, against them.

Like many tourists, we did the freedom trail, so-called because it allows visitors to visit historical landmarks of the American Revolution. This includes the house of Paul Revere who warned the

American militias of the upcoming invasion of the British, as well as Faneuil Hall, which was literally a meeting place where speakers like Samuel Adams and James Otis advocated freedom from Great Britain. It also includes a recreated colonial vessel where the tea party is reenacted to remind the American youth of today of the trigger that established an independent American state.

While it was unfortunate that after triggering a liberal tradition that is today acknowledged as the non-derogable right to self-determination— a people’s right to choose their political status which includes the right to be independent —the American people would later be colonials themselves albeit over only colony, the Philippines. But this sad fact notwithstanding, Boston’s contribution

to modern-day democracy cannot be denied. It also includes a written constitution, which guarantees rights of every human being as being inalienable.

This must have been why the deranged madmen behind the bombings at the Boston marathon targeted the city. Their goal was not only to inflict panic in the mind of the general public but also to send the grim message that America’s cradle of democracy is under attack.

It is gratifying though that on my last day in the United States, the general impression was that Boston was not a city to be cowed. After the dead have been mourned and after the sick have been attended to, the city seems to be up and about eagerly picking up the pieces. The message that the brave survivors of this terroristic attack were sending the world was that while they were terrified, they will rise again. And that appears to be what they have done.

Terrorism, of course, be it in Boston, in Syria, or in Palestine should be condemned in the strongest manner possible. Even in times of war, civilians are accorded protection precisely because the civilian populations ought to be spared from the adverse consequences of all kinds of warfare. This is why any act that tends to spread fear or panic in the mind of the public is condemned, much in the same way that targeting civilians is made criminal in times of armed conflict.

Human beings possess rights that are inalienable. Parts of these are the non-derogable right to life and the right to personal security. Both war crimes and terroristic acts infringe on and violate these rights.

Be that as it may, there are important lessons to be learned from the Boston bombings. Primary among these is the importance of a police force that can actually investigate acts of terrorism and apprehend their suspected perpetrators. It did not take long for the Boston police to process forensics evidence, identity the suspects and actually apprehend them. In the Philippines, our police agents’, until very recently, are told to identify first the suspects before processing the evidence. And while in Boston, it was physical evidence that proved effective in identifying the perpetrators of the crime; in our country, the police, either because of lack of capacity or downright laziness, will rely almost wholly on testimonial evidence. The problem with this approach is that testimonial evidence is either cheap, or may be the result of police short-cuts, such as torture.

How we envy the people of Boston. In less than a week, the perpetrators of the bombings were identified and apprehended, although one of them was killed in the process. In the Philippines, a student of mine, who is now a lawyer, is still awaiting for someone to be charged for the brutal murder of her father, a UP graduate editor and publisher of a local paper in Pagadian City. Her late father and her mother, also murdered some nine years after her father, will both be unable to attend her oath-taking as a lawyer. Likewise, the family of Navy Ensign Philip Pestano is still awaiting action form the Department of Justice in connection with the murder of their son.

Likewise, the Barrameda and the Ortega families can only dream of justice for the death of their loved ones. And let’s not even talk about the victims of the Maguindanao massacre, many of whom have already sunk into despair.

So the lesson is clear: terrorism and lawlessness can strike anywhere. But in civilized societies, the pillars of the criminal justice system: the police, the prosecutors, the courts, and the community-

will ensure that lawless elements will be investigated, prosecuted and punished for their acts.

I wonder when we will finally have a civilized Philippine society.

Awed during the second national IHL summit

(I delivered the keynote address entitled “In Awe” during the Second International Humanitarian Law Summit at Malacañang yesterday. I am publishing here excerpts of my address where I explained why I was “in awe”.) I am awed because not too long ago, civil society — which I belong to, was excluded in the task of […] More →

After the ratification, what’s next?

August 30 of this year marks the first anniversary of the Philippines ratification of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court. The ICC is the first permanent international tribunal created by treaty to prosecute individuals for war crimes, crimes against humanity, genocide and the crime of aggression. Its objective is simple: to ensure that […] More →


A MOOT WITH REAL VICTIMS It was a case of make believe mimicking reality. From February 27 to 28, students from five law schools competed in the Philippine rounds of the most prestigious moot competition in the world, the Philip Jessup moot court competition. Simulating oral arguments before the International Court of Justice, students argued […] More →

Impunity for Nazi crimes

The International Court of Justice recently promulgated a judgment which calls into question both the relevance and function of international law. Unwittingly, it  declared that Nazi Germany is entitled to impunity for acts of forced labor that it committed during World War II. In its February 3, 2012 decision in the case of Germany vs. […] More →

ICC: The road ahead

Evelyn Serrano of the Coalition for the International Criminal Court asked me to confirm my attendance in this year’s Assembly of State Parties of the ICC. I’ve attended many such assemblies in the past as a delegate of civil society, but never as a national of a state party. This year, the seat of the […] More →

ICC: At long last

After eleven years of lobbying, the Philippine Senate yesterday gave its concurrence to the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court. This will finally pave the way for the country to be the 117th state party to the International Criminal Court. Ironically, Commission on Human Rights chairman Loretta Ann Rosales rightfully observed that 117 is […] More →

VINUYA, the Comfort Women Petition: A CLASS PROJECT

It was my first year of full time  teaching at UP Law when Dean Raul Pangalangan and I decided that we should teach a separate elective on International Humanitarian Law. This was a result of a series of training programs that the UP Law Center co-sponsored with the International Committee of the Red Cross on […] More →


A STATEMENT BY THE FACULTY OF THE UP COLLEGE OF LAW An extraordinary act of injustice has again been committed against the brave Filipinas who had suffered abuse during a time of war. After they courageously came out with their very personal stories of abuse and suffering as “comfort women”, waited for almost two decades […] More →

Filipina “Comfort Women” Deserve Political Support

(From ICTJ) NEW YORK, July 23, 2010—The Philippines government should support renewed efforts by former sexual slaves to seek reparations and an official apology from Japan , said the International Center for Transitional Justice (ICTJ) today. Before and during World War II, the Japanese military government forced an estimated 200,000 women from many Asian countries, […] More →