Stop US Military Aid to the Philippines

Rodrigo Duterte’s drug war has killed thousands of Filipinos. It is time for the United States to stop enabling human rights violations by ending military aid to the Philippines.

Protesters draw chalk outlines mimicking the thousands of killings happening under the Duterte presidency on November 14, 2017 in Manila, Philippines. Jes Aznar / Getty

This summer, The United Nations Human Rights Council approved a resolution to compile a comprehensive report on President Rodrigo Duterte’s drug war, during which at least 6,700 people have been killed per official figures; human rights experts say that it is likely that more than 30,000 have been killed.

When asked whether UN investigators will be allowed entry in the Philippines, the Foreign Secretary of the Philippines, Teodoro Locsin, called the UN experts “bastards” and announced that they will not be let in to conduct the investigation.

The UN resolution is part of a pattern of international scrutiny against Philippines president Rodrigo Duterte in light of that government’s systematic human rights violations. In response to the assassination of labor leaders, a high-level mission from the International Labor Organization (ILO) is reportedly going to the Philippines next month to conduct investigations on labor-related killings. The Philippines government is not surprisingly also opposed to the investigation by the ILO.

The US government on the other hand is continuing its massive support for the Duterte regime. It is time for the United States to stop enabling human rights violations against the people of Philippines.

Recently human rights organizations in the Philippines such as Karapatan, the Rural Missionaries of the Philippines (RMP), and Gabriela have been forced to seek legal remedies after a series of red-tagging, illegal arrests, and targeted extrajudicial killings of their members and advocates. In response, the Philippines National Security Advisor, retired Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) general Hermogenes Esperon Jr, filed a lawsuit accusing these human rights organizations of perjury. This is in line with a disturbing trend of Philippines government officials using the legal system to repress, harass, and retaliate against anyone who dares defend human rights.

Additionally, the Philippines was named the second most dangerous country in the world for environmentalists. In a country that is rich in natural resources; there is a long line of exploitative, nature-ravaging multinational corporations which aim to profit from its natural wealth. The Philippines government has long acted as a facilitator for these corporations by utilizing the AFP and Philippine National Police (PNP) to stifle the struggle of environmentalists, indigenous peoples, and farmers’ rights defenders. In 2017, the year following Duterte’s election, there was a 71 percent rise in the killings of activists and advocates.

Last year, an International Peoples Tribunal was held in Brussels, Belgium to delve into the human rights violations and US government support. Based on numerous testimonies, the tribunal declared that Duterte’s forces have summarily killed human rights defenders and those in the Philippines civil society who have criticized the government. The tribunal found the defendants Duterte and Trump, among others, guilty of war crimes, crimes against humanity, criminalization of human rights defenders, and other human rights violations, and called for accountability and reparations for the population whose rights have been violated.

The US government is indeed complicit in the human rights abuses by Duterte as it is providing hundreds of millions of dollars in police and military aid to the Philippines government. In 2018, US military aid to the Philippines increased to a total of $193.5 million dollars — this figure does not include arms sales or donated equipment. This is in clear violation of the Leahy law which “prohibit(s) the U.S. Government from using funds for assistance to units of foreign security forces where there is credible information implicating that unit in the commission of gross violations of human rights.”

Recently, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors passed a resolution condemning the shooting and urging repatriation for Brandon Lee, a Chinese-American, San Francisco native who was shot by elements of the Philippines military last month. The resolution also urged a Congressional hearing and suspension of US aid to the Philippines’ military and police. This resolution was the second of its kind from the San Francisco City Council this year. The first upheld the demand to end US military aid to the Philippines.

Within a week of Brandon Lee’s shooting, the US Embassy agreed to build a $10 million counter-terror training center in Cavite, Philippines.

Until the Philippines government can at least uphold the basic human rights of its people, not one more dime of US taxpayer money should be spent funding a regime mired in the blood of thousands of poor people, farmers, and human rights defenders.

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Azadeh Shahshahani is legal and advocacy director for Project South and a past president of the National Lawyers Guild. She tweets @ashahshahani.

Rev. Sadie Stone is the pastor of Bethany United Methodist Church in San Francisco, CA. She currently serves as the deputy secretary of the Global Council of the International Coalition for Human Rights in the Philippines. Rev. Sadie recently visited Washington, DC to advocate for a Congressional hearing concerning human rights violations and a call to cut US aid for the Philippines military and police.

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