A lawmaker from Pennsylvania has introduced a bill in the US Congress seeking to suspend American security assistance to the Philippines until the administration of President Rodrigo Duterte institutes reforms in the military and police to end human rights abuses.
In her sponsorship speech Sept. 17, Pennsylvania Rep. Susan Wild sought the enactment of her proposed Philippine Human Rights Act, which seeks to halt US assistance for the Armed Forces of the Philippines and the Philippine National Police, which she says are responsible for committing human rights abuses against labor organizers, workers and political opposition.
Presidential spokesman Harry Roque, for his part, downplayed the bill, expressing confidence that PH-US security ties remain strong.
Roque likewise poked fun at the lawmaker’s surname, describing the bill as a “very wild suggestion.”
Wild cited widespread human rights violations in the country perpetrated by what she described as President Duterte’s “brutal regime.”
“Across the Philippines, Rodrigo Duterte’s brutal regime is targeting labor organizers, workers, and political opponents – which is why I introduced the Philippine Human Rights Act, which would block US funding until they prove these assaults on human rights have ended,” Wild posted on her Twitter account.
Wild’s bill outlines the basic criteria that the Philippine government would have to meet in order to lift the ban or resume US funding to the military and the police.
“I am proud to stand alongside so many faith and civil society organizations in advocating for this legislation,” Wild said.
If passed into law, the government must meet the following conditions to lift the suspension of funding: investigate and prosecute members of the military and police forces who are credibly found to have violated human rights; withdraw the military from domestic policy; establish protection of the rights of trade unionists, journalists, human right defenders, indigenous persons, small-farmers, LGBTI activists, and critics of the government.
It also mandates that the Philippines should take steps to guarantee a judicial system that is capable of investigating, prosecuting, and bringing to justice members of the police and military who have committed human rights abuses; and fully comply with any and all audits or investigations regarding the improper use of US security aid.
The bill, co-sponsored by 24 other US lawmakers, has been referred to the committee on foreign affairs and committee on financial services of the US Congress.
“Let us make clear that the US will not participate in the repression. Let us stand with the people of the Philippines,” the US congresswoman said.
“We cannot allow these abhorrent abuses, nor allow our foreign assistance to be used for the repression of basic rights and dignity,” she said.
Maj. Gen. Edgard Arevalo, spokesman for the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), said the Philippine military “has no record of any human rights violation, then and now.”
Arevalo said it was unfair to judge or to pronounce that the AFP was a violator of human rights and use this as the basis for removing aid to the military.
He added that communist rebels were more likely to be involved in human rights violations.
Senator Panfilo Lacson said members of the US Congress were within their rights to file any legislative measure under any circumstance.
But he said if Wild’s bill were approved, it would not only be a loss for the Philippines, but for the United States as well.
Lacson said this is due to the fact that a major part of the security assistance being extended to the Philippines is used to combat terrorism, which knows no borders and timing.
“And since the RP-US Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) is still existing, they may have to resolve that as a legal issue in their deliberations,” Lacson added.
Senate President Vicente Sotto III said the Philippines should reconsider the VFA if the US Congress passes the bill.
Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) Secretary Eduardo Año on Thursday said the government continues to uphold the protection of human rights during its campaign against illegal drugs.
“We are taking great measures in ensuring that the individual rights of the Filipino people are duly respected and protected,” he said in a statement.
The Philippine National Police (PNP) is an attached agency of the DILG.
“Together with other law enforcement agencies, we implement deliberate and responsible law enforcement operations to address the supply of illegal drugs in the Philippines,” Año said.
He added that they have already prosecuted abusive policemen, such as those who killed Kian delos Santos, a teenager killed by cops in a drug operation.
Earlier, Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. said the European Parliament had “devolved into stupidity” by threatening to withdraw tax-exempt privileges for the Philippines over alleged human rights violations.
“The European Union has gone down to the level of deciding for us. They have descended on the level of stupidity,” said Locsin, adding that he is willing to defend the country’s human-rights record with the European Union.
At the hearing of the Department of Foreign Affairs’ proposed P21-billion budget for 2021 at the House of Representatives, Locsin said he will not exclude the country from the debate on its human rights situation.
“I can stand on the human rights credentials of the Philippines. I am not afraid of them. I can face them. I will not excuse them from the debate,” he said.