Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Needed: Less Military Force, More Human Rights in the Philippines

For several years now, I have been intensively involved in working to end the extrajudicial killings (EJK) carried out by the U.S., specifically those involving drones. My attention has been very focused on what the U.S. is doing in places like Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia.

Just a few weeks ago I attended the Ecumenical Advocacy Days in Washington, D.C. One of the things that I learned was the extent of human rights problems in the Philippines -- particularly the way the U.S. enables extrajudicial killings by the Philippine government through its material support for and political backing of the army and the administration.

Here is what other sources are saying about the Philippines:

"The Philippine government failed to match its rhetoric in support of human rights in 2013 with meaningful action to end impunity for extrajudicial killings, torture, and enforced disappearances." (Human Rights Watch, January 21, 2014, "Philippines: Surge of Journalist Killings, Justice Failures")

"The Committee is concerned at the continued perpetration of extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances in the State party. It is particularly concerned at the proliferation of private armies and vigilante groups that are partly responsible for these crimes as well as at the large number of illegal firearms. The Committee is also concerned at the arming and use of “force multipliers” for counter-insurgency and other purposes pursuant to Presidential Executive Order No. 546 (arts. 6, 7 and 9)."(UN Human Rights Committee, "Concluding observations on the fourth periodic report of the Philippines, adopted by the Committee at its 106th session (15 October - 2 November 2012)")

"The most significant human rights problems continued to be extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances undertaken by security forces; a dysfunctional criminal justice system notable for poor cooperation between police and investigators, few prosecutions, and lengthy procedural delays; and widespread official corruption and abuse of power." (U.S. State Department, "Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2013: Philippines")

Now, advocates for human rights in the Philippines, including the Ecumenical Advocacy Network on the Philippines, are asking us to speak out publicly on the need for the U.S. government to "own" its responsibility for human rights violations in the Philippines, and to take affirmative action to halt them.

As President Obama begins his trip to Asia -- underlining the much-touted "pivot to Asia" -- it is an especially important time to draw attention to what is really happening in the Philippines.

Here is my letter to Senators Durbin and Kirk (Illinois).  (Please contact your senators.)

April 22, 2014

The Honorable Richard Durbin
The Honorable Richard Kirk
Hart Senate Office Bldg.
Washington, D.C. 20510

Dear Senator Durbin and Senator Kirk,

I am concerned about the State Department Foreign Military Financing (FMF) aid to the Philippines for fiscal year 2014 and FY 2015. On January 17, 2014 the President signed the first appropriations bill since FY2008 that does not have human rights restrictions on FMF for the Philippines specified in the appropriations law. For FY 2014 restrictions are not in the bill language but instead in the conference committee report, stating that the Appropriations Committees will decide on how much to release to the Philippine army after getting a report from the State Department. We are asking for messages from our Senators to Sen. Leahy, Chair of the State Department Foreign Operations Subcommittee, supporting continued human conditions on FMF funding for the Philippines.

Since the human rights conditions were put in place FY2008 the Government of the Philippines (GPH) has expressed concern about being designated as a human rights violator, and although there has been some decrease in the rate of killings and the government has setup a high level interagency committee to investigate the problem, progress has not been sufficient for the State Department to release all of the appropriated FMF in any year since 2008. According to the US State Department 2013 Human Rights Report few of the perpetrators have been arrested and there have been no convictions of high-ranking police or military officials and a culture of impunity persists.

The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and the paramilitary units under their control continue to be involved in extrajudicial killings (EJK), enforced disappearances, and illegal arrests and in the last 12 months killings have increased. According to KARAPATAN, Philippine human rights NGO, in the first 3 months of this year 19 EJKs have been reported, and all can reasonably be attributed to the AFP and Philippine National Police.

The human rights abuses by security forces can generally be linked to the unresolved 45-year insurgency by the Communist Party of the Philippines and the New People’s Army (CPP-NPA). The victims are typically worker, peasant and environmental activists who have been accused of being communists and or members of the NPA and have failed to stop their activism in the face of the threats. A resolution of the conflict could go a long way to improve the human rights situation. The National Council of Churches of the Philippines (NCCP) has called for “...principled negotiations to thresh out the issues, unearth and address the root causes of the conflict. The peace negotiation is a way to just and lasting peace.” A framework for peace talks hosted by Norway is well established, however, in 2013 peace talks broke down.

The recent spate of killings and highly publicized arrests of CPP peace consultants (Benito and Wilma Austria Tiamzon and several others) signals the GPH is essentially closing the door on the peace process and is prefering a military solution to ending the conflict. We think the US could play a role in urging the GPH to re engage in the peace process.

Another impediment to peace is the State Department listing of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP)-National Democratic Front as a Foreign Terrorist Organization. The listing was a very political act negotiated by the former president of the Philippines.

With the “Pivot to Asia” the US military will be soon be sending military personnel to AFP bases in the Philippines. Negotiations with the GPH are ongoing on the “Agreement on Enhanced Defense Cooperation (AEDC)” and there has been speculation that it may be ready by the time President Obama arrives in Manila next week. It is important that members of Congress be aware of the situation in the Philippines with respect to human rights and take action where appropriate.

Please communicate to Senator Leahy’s staff of the State Department Foreign Operations Subcommittee expressing your concern that the subcommittee:

1) Carefully consider the State Department report on the human rights performance of the Philippine army and not release FMF funds for the army unless there is clear evidence of a substantial decrease in killings, vigorous prosecution of perpetrators and an end to impunity

2) To return human rights conditions to FMF in the bill for 2015

Please also communicate with Secretary of State John Kerry your concern about the breakdown in the peace process to end the ongoing insurgency and request that the CPP-NPA be removed from the list of Foreign Terrorist Organization as signal that the US would like to see progress on peace negotiations.


Joe Scarry
Chicago, IL

Related posts

The problem: the U.S. "pivot to Asia."

The opportunity: asking ourselves, "What would we do differently if we revised our myths of Asia?"

(See U.S. Militarism in Asia: THINK DIFFERENT!)

We have had a window of opportunity -- nearly 70 years in which the constitution of Japan has explicitly renounced war, pointing the way for the rest of us. What have we imagined we were supposed to do?

(See Renouncing War: An Opportunity Not To Be Missed )

The crime of Extrajudicial Execution is described on the website for Mike Haas' book, George W. Bush, War Criminal? The Bush Administration’s Liability for 269 War Crimes. Here, we will look at the specific legal basis for charging perpetrators as war criminals for Extrajudicial Executions, and list sources reporting relevant U.S. actions in Afghanistan.

(See VAU Afgh 101: Extrajudicial Executions )

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