MANILA — The Commission on Human Rights (CHR) said Monday they could not make sense of the military's decision to pose with the dead body of Jevilyn Cullamat who was killed in an encounter in Surigao del Sur on Saturday.
Jevilyn, 22, is the youngest daughter of Bayan Muna Party-list Rep. Eufemia Cullamat. The lawmaker lamented that the military desecrated the remains of her daughter and treated her as a "trophy" in their deadly encounter with communist rebels in Marihatag town.
"It is a cause for concern when representatives of the government treats the death of another Filipino as victory... In instances when armed atrocities are inevitable, we trust that all involved parties adhere to international humanitarian law (IHL) in limiting the effects of armed conflict," CHR spokesperson Jacqueline Ann de Guia said in a statement.
"We cannot find good reason in posing for photos with the lifeless body of Jevilyn Cullmat, alongside seized firearms and communist flags," she added.
The Makabayan bloc, composed of Bayan Muna Reps. Carlos Zarate, Ferdinand Gaite, and Cullamat; ACT Teachers Rep. France Castro, Gabriela Rep. Arlene Brosas, and Kabataan Rep. Sarah Elago, on Sunday condemned the military's "blatant violation" of International Humanitarian Law by "desecrating the remains of Jevilyn, circulating photos of her obviously artificially posed body as though she were still carrying a rifle, and with troops displaying her corpse alongside captured paraphernalia."
"The soldiers did not only disrespect her remains but even used it like a trophy for propaganda purposes," the lower Chamber's progressive bloc said in a statement.
The military, however, denied the accusation and said they took the photos to serve as "substantial evidence" of the "legitimate encounter."
Maj. Gen. Edgard Arevalo, spokesman of the Armed Forces of the Philippines, said "the photo was taken for reporting and documentation purposes that is required after every encounter."
"It was not meant to scoff at the dead or demean the remains whose identity is not known to the soldiers," Arevalo said.
"It was not an AFP policy to pass a photo like that; and a similar act constitute a violation of our stringent policy. The matter is already being investigated. And the one who caused that faces sanctions," he added.
Jevilyn served as a medic of the New People's Army and her identity was confirmed by former rebels, the military said.
In a statement, Rep. Cullamat, who belongs to the Manobo tribe, said she understood why her daughter joined the revolutionary movement.
"Di ako nagtataka kung sumapi sa NPA ang aking anak dahil sa patuloy na nararanasan naming mga katutubo sa mga pagmamalupit at pang-aabuso ng AFP (Armed Forces of the Philippines) at ng kanilang mga paramilitary groups. Naranasan mismo ito ng aming pamilya," she said.
De Guia said the CHR said they will conduct its own investigation on the case.
"We continue to encourage government to genuinely respect the human rights of all - at all times, in all places - as it has claimed to do so in different domestic and international platforms," she said.
The CHR, De Guia said, condemns armed conflict "because in the end, nobody really wins, especially when it leads to ruined lives and communities."