US bill seeks to stop security aid to Philippines
This file photo shows a protester holding a placard that says, "Uphold human rights."
The STAR/KJ Rosales, File
US bill seeks to stop security aid to Philippines
Pia Lee-Brago (The Philippine Star) - September 25, 2020 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines — A group of US lawmakers is pushing for a halt to US security assistance to the Philippines over alleged massive human rights abuses committed by the police and the military purportedly as part of the Duterte administration’s anti-terror drive.

Rep. Susan Wild from Pennsylvania authored and filed House Resolution 8313, or the “Philippine Human Rights Act,” which was co-sponsored by 23 other Democrat lawmakers, including Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

The bill seeks to “suspend the provision of security assistance to the Philippines until the Government of the Philippines has made certain reforms to the military and police forces, and for other purposes.”

Malacañang yesterday downplayed the filing of the resolution, with presidential spokesman Harry Roque calling it “a very wild suggestion.”

“Today, across the Philippines, Rodrigo Duterte’s brutal regime is using the pretext of a so-called anti-terrorism law to ramp up efforts targeting labor organizers, workers and political opponents,” Wild said in a speech.

“This law allows suspects to be detained by the police or military without charges for as long as 24 days and placed under surveillance for up to 90 days,” she said.

She emphasized that the “US will not participate in the repression” of Filipinos by security forces using the fight against terror as an excuse.

“In response to these abuses, I introduced the Philippine Human Rights Act, which would block US funding for police or military assistance to the Philippines, outlining a series of basic criteria, which would have to be met in order to resume such funding,” Wild added.

The Philippines received $554 million in military assistance from the US from 2016 to 2019.

The conditions set in the bill for the lifting of the suspension of US security assistance to the Philippines include investigation and prosecution of the perpetrators of human rights abuses, withdrawing military from domestic policy and policing, protection of the rights of trade unionists, indigenous peoples, farmers, journalists and government critics; guaranteeing the capability of the judicial system in investigating and prosecuting erring members of the police and military.

“We are confident that the US State Department and the administration of President Trump – due to the close friendship between President Trump and President Duterte – see the importance of continuous cooperation between the Philippines and the United States,” Roque said in reaction to the filing of the resolution.

‘Very wild move’

“Just like in the Philippines, any lawmaker can file bills but the chances of the measure being passed into law are low. So, let’s let it be, that is the personal opinion of Rep. Wild, which is a very wild (move),” he said.

Roque said the Philippines would not interfere in the affairs of the US lawmakers or any foreign government, adding they have their own legislative processes.

Reports said Wild filed the measure in response to the passage of the controversial Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020 in Manila, which is being contested before the Supreme Court.

Since assuming office in 2016, President Duterte has shown intolerance to criticisms of his human rights record.

Last year, he erupted in anger when US senators filed a resolution expressing support for jailed opposition Sen. Leila del Lima and Rappler’s Maria Ressa. He had also ordered the Department of Foreign Affairs to notify the US of his intention to have the Visiting Forces Agreement abrogated. He, however, would later order resumption of the VFA.

For Senate President Vicente Sotto III, the development in the US Congress should make the Philippine government reconsider its resumption of the VFA.

“We should reconsider the VFA if they pass that. It’s actually a big IF. If they pass a bill suspending security aid to us, then what will the VFA stand for?” Sotto said.

Sen. Panfilo Lacson said pushing for a bill is within the rights of the members of US Congress, but stressed that Wild’s resolution – if adopted – would also have an impact on US security.

“If adopted and approved— the US bill HR 8313 will not only be our loss but theirs as well considering that a major part of the security assistance being extended to the Philippines is used to combat terrorism which knows no borders nor timing. And they know that for a fact,” Lacson pointed out.

“And since the RP-US Visiting Forces Agreement is still existing, they may have to resolve that as a legal issue in their deliberations,” he added.

The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), meanwhile, denied allegations of human rights violations raised by US lawmakers.

“I’m going to react to the matter relating to the point that recourse they intend to take is on account of something vehemently denied. In many instances in the past, we have been solid and emphatic about our position on human rights violations. The AFP has no record of abuses, then and now,” AFP spokesperson Maj. Gen. Edgard Arevalo said at a press briefing.

“First things, first, we do not deal with policies and inclination of governments, especially foreign governments. But if that is their decision then it is up to the US Congress,” he added. — Christina Mendez, Cecille Suerte Felipe, Romina Cabrera

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