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AFP photo documentation vital in case build up: gov’t lawyer

MANILA – Contrary to a few quarters’ claim, the shared military photos showing firearms and subversive materials recovered from the New People’s Army (NPA) and the corpse of slain NPA rebel Jevilyn Cullamat is part of the military’s documentation in the aftermath of an armed clash.

Thus, said lawyer Gabriel S. Villanueva, Office of the Solicitor General spokesperson to the National Rask Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict, in a press statement Wednesday.

“The AFP (Armed Forces of the Philippines) is clear that it is part of their protocol to document casualties, recovered items, and other pertinent details of an armed counter, should the circumstances permit,” Villanueva said.

This protocol, he said, is not intended to desecrate or disrespect human casualties in armed hostilities but rather to document the aftermath to serve many important purposes.

“These pieces of documentation is vital for the AFP in building cases against armed groups, analyzing the outcomes of similar encounters, establishing or refining rules of engagement, among others,” he added. “It also helps them in identifying casualties later on, which could not be identified at the time of documentation or if no one within the area could help establish their identities.”This may well serve even for the CHR because by documenting casualties – they can assess whether any laws or rules of engagement had been violated, he said.

“Rather than tugging along the cadaver, certainly, showing a photograph would make an easier reference material.,” he said.

Reacting to criticisms that Army soldiers used as a trophy the dead body of Jevilyn youngest daughter of Bayan Muna party-list Rep. Eufemia Cullamat, Villanueva said the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner recognizes casualty recording as “an important and effective means of enhancing the protection of civilians in armed conflict situations and elsewhere.

Jevilyn, a member of the Sandatahang Yunit Propaganda of the NPA’s Guerilla Front 19, was killed in a firefight with members of the Army’s 3rd Special Forcer Battalion in the hinterlands of Barangay San Isidro, Marihatag, Surigao del Sur on Nov. 28.

The documentation, he added, may come in the form of photographic evidence, written documents, data recording, and other tools, to properly record casualties and other incidents of armed conflict.

Villanueva went on to explain that among the good reasons for instituting casualty recording is because “[t]he evidence base generated from casualty recording frequently facilitates engagement with parties to a conflict as well as informs their efforts to better protect civilians and prevent violations of international humanitarian and human rights law. It also serves as a bridge to strengthen dialogue and coordination with other actors involved in protection work, including humanitarians, helping to direct resources to communities with pressing protection needs.”

“Had the picture shown that Cullamat was beheaded or shot at the back of the head, it would call into question the claim that there was a gunfight. And without showing who was part of the squad in the encounter, how else would the CHR (Commission on Human Rights) establish direct accountability with greater clarity,” he added.

Confusing

He said it is confusing, if not appalling, for the CHR to say that they could not find “good reason in posing for photos with the lifeless body of Jevilyn along with the seized firearms and communist flags.

“It betrays a lack of understanding of the importance of documentation and how it can even assist them in their mandate,” he said.

He added that though the AFP has recognized that the photos should not have been shared publicly, even as their protocol required that they be taken and that the matter is already being investigated, the pictures per se do not violate any law, international norm, much less does it amounts to the desecration of a corpse.

“The documentation, in this case, gains greater importance in light of the claim that Cullamat was a medic for the NPA which was totally belied by the photographs,“ he said.

The photo, Villanueva added, points to Jevilyn as a combatant at the time of the encounter thus, the importance of retaining the AFP’s protocol of documenting casualties after hostilities with armed terrorist groups like the NPA.

The CPP-NPA is listed as a terrorist organization by the United States, European Union, the United Kingdom, Australia, Canada, New Zealand, and the Philippines. (PNA)

Credit belongs to : www.pna.gov.ph

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