MANILA - Youth activist group Anakbayan on Monday accused the military of war crime following the death of Bayan Muna party-list Rep. Eufemia Cullamat's daughter in a clash between soldiers and the New People's Army (NPA) in Surigao del Sur.
The younger Cullamat was slain in a firefight in Barangay San Isidro in Marihatag town on Saturday afternoon. Troops recovered at the scene war materiel, including five firearms and four improvised explosives.
The Armed Forces of the Philippines drew flak after a picture Cullamat's remains, posed as though she were still carrying a rifle, and with soldiers displaying her corpse alongside firearms, made rounds online.
Defense chief Delfin Lorenzana and AFP spokesperson Brig. Gen. Edgar Arevalo initially said this is normal and soldiers did this after clashes with Abu Sayyaf, Moro National Liberation Front and Moro Islamic Liberation Front members in the past.
"We will study how we can protect the dignity and privacy of the families... They have families also and I have directed the AFP to look into how we can treat better those who died in encounters," Lorenzana said.
"We vehemently deny that. 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, adding it's not the military's policy to distribute such pictures "and a similar act constitute a violation of our stringent policy."
The Anakbayan youth activist group however accused the military violating the International Humanitarian Law Rule 113—Treatment of the Dead and Article 3 of Part IV of the 1998 Comprehensive Agreement on Respect for Human Rights and IHL (CARHRIHL) in the Philippines.
“By using Jevilyn’s dead body as ammunition for their propaganda, the AFP emboldened themselves as a gang of war criminals,” Vinz Simon, Anakbayan National Secretary-General, said in a statement.
“They did the same to Jo Lapira, John Carlo Alberto, and many other revolutionary martyrs who were killed not once but multiple times as the AFP circulated photos of their mutilated corpses," he added.
As the resumption of the Senate's hearing on red-tagging, or accusing personalities of being part of communist groups looms, the government will use Cullamat's death "to legitimize attacks against activists adding insult to injury to Rep. Cullamat’s grieving family," Simon said.
The Commission on Human Rights (CHR) earlier Monday said they could not make sense of the military's decision to pose with the dead body of Cullamat.
"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.