Lawyers' group wants Erap tried for war crimes

Lawyer Alex Macalawi, president of the Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP)-Lanao del Sur chapter, said his group is now preparing charges against Estrada for violation of international humanitarian law citing alleged abuses by the Armed Forces of the Philippines against civilians, especially the Moros, at the height of the 2000 war. 

He said they are also considering filing “billions (of pesos) worth” of damage suit against the former President.

“We will hold him accountable for the hundreds of innocent civilians who were killed and the damages to properties during the all-out-war,” he said at a forum Monday on international humanitarian and human rights laws here.

The forum is part of the fifth leg of the three-day International Training Course on the Investigation and Prosecution of Extrajudicial killings, Enforced Disappearances and Torture for Public Prosecutors, Human Rights Workers and other Legal Professionals organized by the American Bar Association and the Center for International Law.

Macalawi, who claimed to be a legal counsel of the MILF, said they are exploring the possibility of indicting Estrada before the International Court of Justice.

“We believe he is guilty by virtue of the doctrine of command responsibility,” he said.

The Estrada government staged an “all-out-war” against the MILF from February to July 2000 that led to the reported capture of 47 MILF camps, including its main enclave Camp Abubakar in Maguindanao.

The conflict led to the death of hundreds of government troopers, MILF rebels and civilians and the displacement of hundreds of thousands of residents in various parts of Mindanao. 

Lawyer Harry Roque Jr., chair of the Center for International Law, lauded the efforts of the IBP Lanao del Sur but stressed that they to need explore other options available. 

He said the case being planned against Estrada, who was forced to step down at the height of protests following an abortive impeachment trial in January 2001, may not be filed before the ICJ since it is a case against a person.

“Under the international humanitarian law, civilian deaths alone, unless proven that they were specifically targeted, is not enough reason for an indictment,” he explained.

But Roque said the group may still file a case against Estrada in some countries that have laws pertaining to international crimes.

He said the “ideal countries” where such cases may be filed are Germany, United States, Belgium, United Kingdom and Spain. 

“In fact, Estrada has a pending case in Germany based on a picture that appeared in a national daily showing soldiers during the all-out war rejoicing on top of a damaged mosque,” he said.

Roque said the case, reportedly filed by a group of Moro lawyers, dealt on the AFP's alleged violations or abuses against places of worship at the height of the all-out war.

“Right now, the case is still pending because these cases will not actually proceed unless the accused is presented before the court,” he added. (Allen V.Estabillo/MindaNews)