US Senate asked to keep restrictions on military aid to PH

MALAYBALAY CITY (MindaNews/02 July) – The United States Senate has been asked to retain key provisions from past legislation restricting military funding to the Philippines due to the alleged failure of the Aquino administration to curb abuses committed by security forces.

In a joint Letter dated July 1, 2015 to Senator Lindsey Graham of the Senate appropriations committee, 18 leaders of different churches and advocacy groups said “extrajudicial killings and other violent abuses implicating members of the security forces remain a serious problem” and “the Philippines’ response so far has been insufficient”.

The signatories said that in the context of counterinsurgency operations against the New People’s Army, “members of the armed forces and paramilitary forces have been responsible for numerous unlawful attacks on activists, human rights defenders, priests and other church workers, and labor organizers”.

“In recent years, environmental activists and tribal leaders have also been targets of assault,” they added.

The signatories acknowledged too that the NPA has also been accused of serious abuses.

The letter said that outside of the context of counterinsurgency, “security force personnel have also been responsible for killings of politicians and political workers involved in local disputes and journalists reporting on corruption and other criminality.”

Since 2008, the US has imposed a restriction on foreign military financing to the Philippines because of its military’s alleged involvement in extrajudicial killings. The most recent restriction places limits on assistance to the Philippine Army while allowing assistance to the Navy, according to the letter.

But the signatories noted that these limits can be lifted if the Secretary of State certifies that the Philippine government is achieving sufficient progress on addressing extrajudicial killings.

Philippine Army soldiers simulate a field scenario during a mock battle exercise in a military camp in Bukidnon. The Army has been blamed for several abuses during counterinsurgency operations. MindaNews file photo by H. Marcos C. Mordeno
Philippine Army soldiers simulate a field scenario during a mock battle exercise in a military camp in Bukidnon. The Army has been blamed for several abuses during counterinsurgency operations. MindaNews file photo by H. Marcos C. Mordeno

They said the restriction has only been partially effective noting the prosecution of “a small number of suspected perpetrators,” including retired Army general Jovito Palparan, who was accused in several enforced disappearances in 2006.

Palparan was also implicated in several extrajudicial killings of activists during the Arroyo administration.

Citing the recent killings of journalists and activists suspected of being NPA members, the signatories said lifting the current restrictions now would be “sending the wrong message to the Philippine government: that the US is unconcerned by serious continuing rights abuses by the Philippine Army and that the Army should no longer be treated as the abusive force that it continues to be”.

“Lifting the restrictions is also strategically unnecessary: the current, well-tailored restriction focuses entirely on the Philippine Army, while the bulk of assistance requested by the Pentagon would be directed at the Philippine Navy.”

Among the cases mentioned in the letter was the killing of Ricky Basig on June 25. Basig, an environmental activist in the Davao region, had been branded by the military as an NPA member, the letter said.

It also cited an incident in recent months in which military personnel were alleged to have killed four peasant leaders in the Davao Region, also in southern Mindanao.

“The military typically denies involvement in such attacks, even when there is strong evidence pointing to the involvement of military personnel,” it said.

“The State Department’s most recent Human Rights Country Report on the Philippines highlighted this continuing human rights challenge, noting that the Philippines ‘most significant human rights problems continued to be extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances undertaken by security forces and suspected vigilante groups’,” the signatories said.

They described as “extremely disappointing” the government’s overall record in investigating and prosecuting serious human rights violations by the security forces.

“According to police records, since 2001 there have been only two convictions in extrajudicial killings, and no senior officials have been among those convicted, only gunmen. To our knowledge, the vast majority of alleged EJK cases are either uninvestigated or are supposedly still under investigation. Simply put, the Philippine government needs to do a lot more to satisfy the existing legislation’s requirements,” they said.

They urged the US Senate “to leave the conditions in place in the appropriations bill to serve as a continuing incentive for the Aquino administration to address this serious human rights issue”.

Among the signatories to the letter were Scott Wright, director of Columban Center for Advocacy and Outreach Missionary Society of St. Columban; Terrence Valen, president of National Alliance for Filipino Concerns; John Sifton, advocacy director for Asia of Human Rights Watch; Rev. Fr. Primitivo C. Raimondo of St. Margaret of Scotland Episcopal Church in Chicago; and Jackelyn Mariano of New York Committee for Human Rights in the Philippines. (H. Marcos C. Mordeno/MindaNews)