On November 28th, 22-year-old Jevilyn Cullamat was killed in a clash between the New People’s Army (N.P.A.) and a 12-man Philippine Army Special Forces Team in the mountains of Surigao del Sur. Known in the communist movement as Ka Reb, Cullamat was a medic in the Sandatahang Yunit Pampropaganda platoon of the communist party’s Northeastern Mindanao Regional Committee’s Guerilla Front 19.
The Armed Forces of the Philippines released a photograph of seized supplies, flags from the rebellion, and the young medic’s body – which has led some to accuse the soldiers of desecrating the dead. The photograph, which circulated the internet and media outlets in the Philippines over the weekend of her murder, shows Ka Reb’s body posed next to several seized rifles. Soldiers with blurred-out faces stand behind her. The photograph looks like the sort a group of hunters might take with their prized kill of the day.
Ka Reb’s mother, Representative Eufemia Cullamat of the progressive Bayan Muna party, says her daughter joined the N.P.A. to fight against the injustices committed against Lumad people like themselves. (“Lumad” is a collective term for the indigenous peoples of the Philippines.) “Mahal ko ang anak ko na nagmahal sa bayan,” Rep. Cullamat said. [I love my daughter who loved our country.] “Ipinagmamalaki ko siya. Bayani siya ng mga Lumad at ng buong bayan.” [I am proud of her. She is a hero to the Lumad and the country.]
Rep. Cullamat’s ties to Bayan Muna led to attacks against the party following her daughter’s death. In a statement on Sunday, posted to the Philippine’s official government website, Lt. Gen. Antonio Parlade Jr. wrote, “The death of her daughter is yet another proof of Bayan Muna recruitment of youth into the N.P.A., aggravated by the fact that this time, it’s no less than the daughter of a Bayan Muna Representative herself, who made a sacrifice for a useless cause.”
Ka Reb’s death is a “grim reminder of the effects of the fruitless armed conflict,” Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana also said Sunday. This statement shifts the blame from the A.F.P. to the Philippines’ Communist Party – which Lorenzana insists is a terrorist group.
Lorenzana condemned the posing of the body and the release of the photo. According to the Inquirer, Lorenzana has claimed he will release new guidelines preventing documentation of rebel deaths from being released until the body is with the deceased’s family.
However, contrary to Lorenzana’s implied acceptance of responsibility, the A.F.P.’s Twitter released a statement from Major General Edgar Arevalo saying the forces “vehemently deny” desecrating Ka Reb’s body. The photo, Arevalo insists, 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.”
In response to the death, Filipino president Rodrigo Duterte said, “Let a woman fight a soldier, she will surely die.” This is consistent with misogynistic statements he has made in the past.
Duterte also took time in his statement to accuse groups in the Makabayan bloc, which includes Rep. Cullamat’s Bayan Muna party, of being nothing more than “legal fronts” for the Communist Party of the Philippines and the N.P.A.
Makabayan has released the following statement:
“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 soldiers did not only disrespect her remains but even used it like a trophy for propaganda purposes.”
Makabayan said the photograph 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.”
Killing a medic is a tragedy, and posing her body post-mortem for a propagandist photograph is deplorable. Violating a body in such a way, to quote Gabriela Women’s Party Representative Arlene Brosas, is something “only psychopaths and terrorists are capable of.” Both the Commission on Human Rights and the A.F.P. are investigating the photo’s release.
The soldiers who posed the body in such a way and released it to the public should be punished severely for such blatant disrespect for human life. Human remains deserve the highest level of respect, and should be returned carefully and quickly to the family of the deceased for proper burial rites.
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