Nineteen newly recruited officers of the Judge Advocate General Service (JAGS), the legal counsels of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), underwent a three-week training on international humanitarian law (IHL) or the law of armed conflict.
Brig. Gen. Erwin Victoriano Machica III, Judge Advocate General, requested the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) to conduct the training, held from 6 to 24 November 2023, at Camp Aguinaldo in Quezon City. Those trained form the first batch to be sent to operational units to provide legal advice on the conduct of hostilities. Previously, JAGS officers were responsible for discipline and administration in AFP.
The course touched on pressing topics such as general principles of IHL regarding the regulation of weapons, detention during armed conflicts, protection of health care and the natural environment, domestic law on IHL and the law of naval warfare among others.
“The training aimed to ensure that participants understand the ICRC’s humanitarian mandate and role in ensuring the rules of war are respected, that they know what IHL is, can give advice on the basic principles on the conduct of hostilities and that they understand related domestic laws,” said Kelisiana Thynne, head of the ICRC’s legal department in the Philippines.
Resource person Judge Samina Sampaco Macabando-Usman, an IHL trainer from the Department of Justice, briefed participants about Republic Act 9851 which penalizes crimes against IHL, genocide and other crimes against humanity. Sessions also included role plays where JAGS members drafted rules of engagement or standard operating procedures for certain scenarios.
Training on management of deceased in emergencies
Meanwhile, a separate training session on forensics was also organized for 21 AFP officers and staff on 15 and 16 November 2023 in Makati City. The training focused on general principles regarding the protection and management of the deceased in emergencies, especially during land and maritime conflicts, as well as the ICRC’s work in the Philippines and its role in humanitarian forensics.
The ICRC discussed internationally accepted standards for the documentation, recovery, transport, temporary burial or storage of the deceased, and coordination with the parties concerned. AFP officers and ICRC officials exchanged best practices and discussed common challenges in the protection and management of the deceased. The AFP and the ICRC also explored ways in which they can cooperate in the future, such as for capacity-building activities.
The workshop aims to pave the way for more strategic cooperation at the national level.
Prior to the event, the ICRC supported one AFP officer in 2022 to attend an international course on the protection and management of the deceased in Pakistan. Another AFP official will soon attend the same course in December 2023. Material support will also be given next week to the AFP, through the donation of 200 body bags.
The training sessions are in line with the memorandum of understanding signed between AFP and the ICRC in 2021 to enhance the two institutions’ cooperation in the effective implementation of IHL, and its integration into military teaching, systems and processes.