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US shifts aid from anti-drug operations to maritime security

The US remains deeply concerned by reports of extrajudicial killings by or at the behest of government authorities in the Philippines, State Department spokesman John Kirby said. AP/Susan Walsh, file

WASHINGTON – The United States has switched its police assistance program in the Philippines from drug control to maritime security in the light of human rights violations in the Duterte administration’s war on drugs.

The US remains deeply concerned by reports of extrajudicial killings by or at the behest of government authorities in the Philippines, State Department spokesman John Kirby said.

“Since the start of the drug campaign, our law enforcement assistance has been refocused away from narcotics control to supporting maritime security efforts and to providing human rights training to the Philippine National Police,” Kirby said.

“We decided the prudent thing to do was to refocus the way that assistance was being spent,” Kirby said.

More than 4,600 people are reported to have been killed in the war on drug dealers and users since Duterte took office five months ago.

Historically, State Department-funded training has aimed to transform the Philippine National Police into a modern, sustainable, democratic police force capable of effectively providing internal security in difficult conditions while demonstrating respect for democratic principles and human rights, Kirby said.

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“And just to remind, the United States vigorously vets all units and individuals before providing assistance to the security forces of the Philippines, as we do elsewhere around the world,” he said.

The US is committed to providing $180 million in assistance to the Philippines from Oct. 1, 2016 to Sept. 30, 2017 and routinely vetting the military to ensure security units that violate human rights do not get any aid.

Of $5 million that had been intended for Philippine law enforcement efforts, the State Department in early September shifted $4.5 million into maritime law enforcement, specifically to the Philippines Coast Guard and Bureau of Fisheries, a State Department spokeswoman said. Another half-million dollars is to go to human rights and internal reform efforts, she said.

The State Department expects it will continue to focus its funding on maritime security, human rights and rule of law programming, the spokeswoman said.

The US has sent the Philippines hundreds of millions of dollars in foreign aid and military and development assistance in recent years, making it the third-largest Asian recipient of US military aid after Afghanistan and Pakistan.

The Leahy Law, named for its sponsor, Democratic Sen. Patrick Leahy, bars the US from providing training or equipment to foreign troops who commit human-rights violations.                 

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