After 34 years, the Philippines has finally taken steps to ratify Additional Protocol 1 to the Geneva Conventions. AP1, as it is referred to, was entered into by the international community in 1977 to expand the coverage of protection to all civilians in times of armed conflict. Under the 1949 Geneva Conventions, only those civilians living in “occupied territory” were entitled to protection. This ignored the reality that non-combatants living in the territory of a party to a conflict could also be the subject of inhumane attacks perpetrated by combatants and fighters. This was certainly the case with the German Jews and gypsies who perished likewise in the gas chambers of Auschwitz, together with civilians in occupied territories such as Poland and other central European countries. AP 1 hence seeks to insulate civilians, as much as possible, from all the adverse consequences of an armed conflict.
The international community adopted AP1 at the same time as Additional Protocol 2 to the Geneva Conventions. AP 2 provides, for the first time, binding code of conduct to all fighters in non-international armed conflicts. This was a worldwide recognition that since World War Two, the world has seen more conflicts which were not interstate in nature, but between states and domestic armed groups. It was also the sad experience of humanity that these internal armed conflicts were not only more prevalent, but also proved to be more barbaric and inhumane. The Philippines had to have Cory Aquino as President before we could accede to AP 2 in 1986. Meanwhile, despite Mrs. Aquino, we have opted to shy away from AP1.
The reason for our non-accession to AP 1 is the provision under the Geneva Conventions that defines an international armed conflict as those “between states or between a state and a belligerent group engaged in a war of national liberation”. We have been a theater to the world’s longest-running communist insurgency, the conflict with the New Peoples Army, as well as two of the longest running insurgencies involving those clamoring for a separate Islamic independent state, the Moro National Liberation Front and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front. The fear then of all Philippine governments since Mrs. Aquino’s time was that ratifying AP 1 might lead to an international recognition of these insurgents’ status as belligerents, which already is the position of the lawyers of NPA.
Fortunately, the Philippine government has seen through this specious argument and has finally realized that bare assertion of a belligerent status will not suffice under international law. In fact, there have only been two conflicts recognized by the international community as genuine wars for national liberation, to wit: the conflicts against the racist’s regimes of Rhodesia and South Africa. This is because textually, the Geneva Conventions specify that wars of national liberations governed by the Geneva Conventions are only those against “racists or colonial regimes”. The NPA clearly cannot qualify as a belligerent group under this very clear definition.
In any case, congratulations are in order to President Noynoy Aquino for finally sending AP 1 for concurrence of the Senate, which is the last constitutional step before we could deposit our instrument of ratification evidencing our intent to be bound by the treaty. Certainly, his submission of the treaty after 34 long years is proof that despite his declining ratings, Aquino has recognized the importance of providing protection to all civilians from the adverse consequences of armed conflict. Kudos too to the Chair of the Senate Committee on Foreign Affairs, the pride of the UP Institute of Mass Communication, Senator Loren Legarda, for prioritizing the Senate hearings on AP 1. The good senator has also promised to prioritize Senate concurrence to the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, yet another institutional remedy against impunity here and abroad.
Speaking of the UP Institute of Mass Communication, it lost recently one of its best journalism educators and one of the country’s most respected journalists, Chit Estela. Aside from her stellar performance as a journalist in publications such as Malaya, the Philippine Daily Inquirer, Manila Times, Philippine Journalism Review, and with Vera Files, the country’s newest but probably the best investigative journalism outfit, Chit will be most remembered for her uncompromising stand in favor of press freedom even at great cost to her personal well-being.
When the then-Gokonwei-controlled Manila Times wrote a series of investigative reports on supposed pay-offs given in connection with the IMPSA hydro-electric plant during the short administration of Joseph Estrada, the latter was furious and actually filed a P110-million libel suit against the publication. The former President though indicated that he withdraw his suit if the publication and its editors apologize to him. Chit, then a senior editor of the Manila Times, refused downright to apologize, standing pat on her conviction that no one should apologize for good journalism. When the paper did apologize, Chit, unlike many of her peers who opted for the easy way out, opted to resign rather than sit through the ignominy of an obvious attack on press freedom. Her decision to resign marked the end of her “mainstream” journalism career as Chit would then spend the rest of her professional life in alternative media outlets such as the Pinoy Times and Vera files.
Chit certainly lived a life worthy of emulation. Though she has moved on, I am sure her legacy will live on especially in the hearts and minds of the young people whom she has taught and mentored.