The progressive Makabayan bloc in the House of Representatives slammed the military for using the remains of Bayan Muna Representative Eufemia Cullamat’s daughter as a “trophy for propaganda purposes.”
As the nation remembered the birth of Philippine revolutionary hero Andres Bonifacio on Monday, November 30, the leftist lawmakers mourned for Jevilyn Cullamat, who died in the hands of the Philippine Army’s 3rd Special Forces Battalion.
Apart from Jevilyn’s mother Cullamat – who is also a leader of the indigenous Manobo tribe – the Makabayan bloc is composed of:
“The military blatantly violated 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 lawmakers said in a statement.
“The soldiers did not only disrespect her remains but even used it like a trophy for propaganda purposes,” they added.
Jevilyn, 22, was the lone fatality during an encounter between the military and the New People’s Army (NPA), the armed wing of the Communist Party of the Philippines, in Marihatag town in Surigao del Sur on Saturday, November 28.
Soldiers said Jevilyn served as a medic of the NPA, but did not disclose details of the clash nor how she ended up dead.
They would later pose for photos with Jevilyn’s lifeless body placed alongside seized firearms and communist flags.
The progressive lawmakers said the soldiers' acts violated the 1998 Comprehensive Agreement on Respect for Human Rights and International Law, which bans the "desecration of the remains of those who have died in the course of the armed conflict.”
Gabriela Representative Brosas further said in her own statement that “only psychopaths and terrorists are capable of taking photo opportunities with a dead body.”
Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) spokesperson Edgard Arevalo later issued a statement on Twitter clarifying that the pictures were taken "for reporting and documentation purposes," a requirement after every encounter.
"It was not meant to scoff at the dead or demean the remains whose identity is not known to the soldiers. And to be able to identify her, soldiers had to carry the dead body for half a day of hike from the site of the encounter where she was left behind by her NPA comrades to the lowland," said Arevalo.
Still, Arevalo said the AFP is already investigating the matter and "the one who caused that faces sanctions."
Jevilyn’s death comes at the heels of the intensified red-tagging of Makabayan lawmakers and other activists under President Rodrigo Duterte’s government. Social media posts red-tagging the Makabayan bloc members were even shared by police and military officers.
For Representative Castro, young Filipinos like Jevilyn end up joining the armed struggle because the government continues to oppress indigenous peoples, and have failed to address issues of poverty and low pay.
“Gobyerno mismo ang recruiter ng NPA; sila at ang mapaniil na sistema ang nag-udyok para tumangan ng armas, depensehan ang kapwa nila katribu, at depensahan ang lupang ninuno na kinakamkam ng iilan,” Castro said.
(The government itself is the recruiter for the NPA. The government and this oppressive system forced people to take up arms, to defend their neighbors, their tribe, and the ancestral lands being stolen from them.)
Mara Cepeda specializes in stories about politics and local governance. She covers the Office of the Vice President, the Senate, and the Philippine opposition. She is a 2021 fellow of the Asia Journalism Fellowship and the Reham al-Farra Memorial Journalism Fellowship of the UN. Got tips? Email her at email@example.com or tweet @maracepeda.