US senators ask Pompeo: What is Washington’s response to ‘gross’ human rights abuses in Philippines?

Gaea Katreena Cabico - Philstar.com
US senators ask Pompeo: What is Washington�s response to �gross� human rights abuses in Philippines?
In this file photo US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo speaks during the daily briefing on the novel coronavirus, COVID-19, in the Brady Briefing Room at the White House on April 8, 2020, in Washington, DC.
AFP / Mandel Ngan

MANILA, Philippines — Five US senators expressed concern on human rights abuses and assaults on press freedom under President Rodrigo Duterte’s administration, calling on Washington to stand up against these “brutal tactics.”

In a letter addressed to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, the Democratic senators also sought to know how the government of President Donald Trump will counter these “serious, ongoing abuses.”

“The Philippines is an important ally of the United States. But alliance considerations cannot be grounds for silence or unquestioned assistance to the Philippines in light of the pattern of gross violations of human rights by the Duterte government, particularly in its counter-narcotics operations,” US Sens. Edward Markey, Patrick Leahy, Richard Durbin, Benjamin Cardin and Jeffrey Merkley said in a letter dated July 29.

The lawmakers raised concern on Duterte’s brutal war on drugs that has killed thousands of alleged drug personalities as well as the crackdown on government critics, human rights defenders and journalists.

They also cited the cyber-libel conviction of Rappler executive editor Maria Ressa—also a US citizen—and former researcher Reynaldo Santos, Jr., and the shutdown of top broadcaster ABS-CBN.

“How does the State department plan to respond to the Philippine government’s systematic human rights violations, including restrictions on free expression?” the senators asked Pompeo.

They lamented Trump administration’s failure to impose sanctions on Philippine officials implicated in extrajudicial killings or the detention of Sen. Leila de Lima and the move to reinstate the Sen. Ronald dela Rosa's visa.

“We value the partnership between the United States and the Philippines, but we must stand up against the brutal tactics of the Duterte government, particularly when they are used against American citizens,” they added.

Anti-terror law

The US senators also feared that the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020 will enable further human rights abuses and make it easier for the government to criminalize dissent.

“We urge you to make clear that the United States will ignore neither the exploitation of this law nor ongoing human rights violations by the Duterte government. The arms sales that you continue to approve, including the sales of attack helicopters and related equipment approved on April 30, 2020, risk sending the opposite signal,” they said.

Human Rights Watch earlier said that approving contracts for helicopters sends a message that the Philippines’ “long-running military abuses without accountability” have no consequences on the US-Philippines relations.

“Given the impunity with which the Duterte government has operated and its record of targeting critics and opposition figures, expanded counterterrorism powers such as those in the Anti-Terrorism Act would pose a human rights threat even if on their face they comport with global standards,” the US lawmakers said.

The controversial legislation is facing at least 21 legal challenges at the Supreme Court.

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