Lorenzana scores troops’ Jevilyn Cullamat ‘trophy’ photo: ‘That was wrong’

MANILA, Philippines —  Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana on Wednesday deplored the behavior of Army commandos who posed for a “trophy” picture beside the body of slain communist rebel Jevilyn Cullamat, daughter of incumbent Bayan Muna Rep. Eufemia Cullamat.

“That was wrong, I don’t approve of that action. They (soldiers) shouldn’t have done that. Maybe they could pose behind firearms or any other equipment but not from behind bodies of fallen fighters,” Lorenzana said in an interview with CNN Philippines.

The defense secretary said the posting of the “trophy” photo on social media was “uncalled for” and said, “I understand the feelings of Congresswoman Cullamat,” who decried the soldiers’ behavior and the release of the picture on social media.

‘She has a point’

“She has a point there,” Lorenzana said of Cullamat’s criticism. “That’s why we are coming up with directives again to the [Armed Forces of the Philippines] general headquarters, to the people, to the troops not to do this again.”

He said he would order the military high command to ensure that pictures of fallen enemy fighters are not released until the military has returned the remains to their families or to anybody who would claim them.

The picture released on social media on Sunday was one of three that showed commandos of the Army’s 3rd Special Forces “Arrowhead” Battalion, whose faces were blurred, posing with Jevilyn’s body and the firearms they supposedly seized after a battle at Barangay San Isidro in Marihatag town, Surigao del Sur province.

The unit later advised the media to refrain from making public that picture.

Lorenzana said the military had long been taking pictures of slain enemy combatants but only for documentation and internal purposes only.

“Our soldiers have always respected fallen fighters, [New People’s Army, or NPA] Abu Sayyaf or whatever … I think we have respected all the remains of the fallen fighters of the NPA since the beginning,” he added.

But Lorenzana disputed Cullamat’s claim of violations of international humanitarian law because Jevilyn was in the company of armed rebels that battled with government forces and that she was not wearing a uniform or symbol indicating she was a medic, as the lawmaker claimed.

He also scored the Makabayan bloc for claiming that their activities were all legal and part of the “legal front” of the so-called national democratic movement.

Hiding behind fronts

“They are hiding behind this ‘legal front’ term. You will not catch us because we are doing legal things. Let’s just expose them, that their true purpose is to create chaos, rally, and support all other groups trying to destabilize the government,” Lorenzana said.

“They have been working for the [Communist Party of the Philippines]-NPA. They keep saying that they’re not but their actions belie their claim,” he added.

“It’s like they’re trying to hoodwink the Filipino people that they’re legal fronts when they are not. They are fronting for an illegal organization,” Lorenzana said.