BY WENDELL VIGILIA and VICTOR REYES
BAYAN Muna party-list Rep. Eufemia Cullamat and fellow members of the Makabayan bloc at the House yesterday accused the military of “desecrating” the body of her daughter Jevilyn, an New People’s Army member who was killed in an encounter with soldiers in Surigao del Sur last Saturday.
Cullamat, a neophyte lawmaker, condemned the alleged desecration of her 22-year-old daughter’s remains, after the soldiers posed for pictures beside her cadaver, saying “she is not a trophy to be paraded for military propaganda.”
“Hindi niyo na ginalang ang patay, binabastos pa ninyo ang nagluluksa naming pamilya (You did not respect the dead, you also disrespected our grieving family),” she said in a statement. “Hayaan ninyo ang aming pamilya na makapagluksa at makapagbigay ng parangal sa kabayanihan niya (Let our family mourn and honor her for her heroism).”
Cullamat was slain in a firefight with forces of the 3rd Special Forces Battalion in Marihatag town. Troops recovered at the scene war materiel, including five firearms and four improvised explosives.
The 3rd SFB released a picture showing 11 soldiers behind Cullamat’s remains and the recovered firearms.
AFP spokesman Maj. Gen. Edgard Arevalo said the soldiers did not use Cullamat’s body as a war trophy. He said the soldiers did know the identity of the fatality.
“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,” he said.
Arevalo said it is not the military’s policy to pass such pictures “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,” Arevalo also said.
1Lt. Krisjuper Andreo Punzalan, 3rd SFB civil military operations officer, said the picture is part of “documentation” to prove the encounter was legitimate.
“It shows the existence of the NPA firearms and IEDs, in violation of international humanitarian law,” he said.
Punzalan said the picture was not meant to desecrate the body of Cullamat. He said the pictures shows the soldiers were attending to the remains of Cullamat properly.
Punzalan also said Cullamat’s body was not used as a war trophy. “What will gain from that? Nothing… We are only after the truth and that picture speaks the truth,” he said.
Rep. Cullamat called her daughter a “martyr” for offering her life to her beliefs and principles, saying her life was not wasted because she used it to “defend our ancestral domain.”
While she is deeply hurting, Cullamat said, she is truly proud of her daughter “for fighting an oppressive system, especially to us Lumads.”
“Malaking karangalan sa akin na nagkaroon ng isang anak na naging martir at mandirigma.
(It’s a huge honor to have a daughter who was a martyr and a warrior),” Cullamat said.
Cullamat defended Jevilyn’s decision to join the communist armed rebellion which she said was the offshoot of the oppression and poverty that their tribe has been suffering from.
The Makabayan bloc said the military “blatantly violated the 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. We demand that all these photos be immediately withdrawn from government websites and those responsible for circulating them held accountable,” they said.
The other Makabayan bloc lawmakers are Carlos Zarate (Bayan Muna), Ferdinand Gaite and France Castro of Alliance of Concerned Teachers, Arlene Brosas of Gabriela, and Sarah Elago of Kabataan.
The group said “respect for human rights and dignity of the dead are not in the vocabulary of the AFP.”
“In the conduct of their anti-rebellion campaigns, they continue to violate with impunity the rights of our people, including the deadly practice of recklessly red-tagging and terrorist-tagging activists, artists, critics of the administration, religious persons, the political opposition and even ordinary citizens,” they said.
The country’s more than five-decade armed conflict, they said, is aggravated by such human rights violations “that mainly protect the status quo while utterly failing to address the roots of why people take up arms.”
‘END ARMED STRUGGLE’
Defense and military officials asked the communist movement to end their armed struggle.
Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said Cullamat’s death “is a grim reminder of the effects of the fruitless armed conflict perpetrated by these communist terrorist groups.”
“Let this incident bring to the fore the duplicity of the communist terrorist movement, whose members in the higher echelons pit Filipinos against fellow Filipinos,” he also said.
Lorenzana expressed his “deepest condolences” to the Cullamat family.
“Losing the young is a tragedy in itself but losing them in a senseless war being waged by the NPA against the government is an even greater tragedy. This killing of our youth will continue until their recruitment in or out of school is stopped. I call on all parents to be vigilant to prevent their children from being recruited,” he said.
He urged the Makabayan bloc to stop supporting the CPP-NPA which he said has “left a trail of death and destruction all over the country for more than 50 years.”
Arevalo said the military condoles with the Cullamat family.
“We grieve deeply with the Bayan Muna Representative and her family as we would for many Filipino families — including soldiers’ — who have lost a father, a mother, son, daughter, brother, sister, or kin who died in this more than five decades of fighting,” said Arevalo.
Arevalo said the “senseless killing” espoused and propagated by communist party founding leader Jose Maria Sison, who is on self-exile in Netherlands, “should come to end.”