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US bill halts military aid to PH over rights issue

/ 05:34 AM September 25, 2020

A bill that would suspend security aid to the Philippines until the country’s military and police forces have been held accountable for human rights violations has been introduced in the United States House of Representatives.

Philippine human rights groups welcomed what they called international pressure on the Duterte administration for its “tyrannical” policies.

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Malacañang called the proposal filed by Democratic Rep. Susan Wild of Pennsylvania a “very wild” suggestion that had a “very slim” chance of becoming law.

Wild and 23 other United States representatives, mostly Democrats, filed House Bill No. 8313, the proposed Philippine Human Rights Act, on Sept. 17 and it had drawn support from several faith and civic groups in the United States.

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A copy of the bill has yet to be uploaded to the United States House of Representatives’ website, but a summary says the bill would “suspend the provision of security assistance to the Philippines until the overnment of the Philippines has made certain reforms to the military and police forces, and for other purposes.”

In her sponsorship speech, a video of which was played back during a news briefing on Thursday, Wild slammed President Duterte’s “brutal regime” for using the new Anti-Terrorism Act “to ramp up efforts targeting [dissidents and political opponents].”

Wild called the terror law “legislation that legitimizes [Mr. Duterte’s] regime’s practice of terror, tagging and killing activists.”

“Let us make clear that the [United States] will not participate in the repression. Let us stand with the people of the Philippines,” Wild said.

“I am proud to stand alongside with so many faith and civil society organizations in advocating for this legislation,” she said.

Conditions for aid restoration

Communications Workers of America, a labor group and one of the organizations mentioned by Wild, said the bill provided conditions that the Philippine government must meet before security aid to the country could be restored: investigate and prosecute military and police forces credibly found to have violated human rights; withdraw the military from domestic policy; establish protection of the rights of trade unionists, journalists, human rights defenders, indigenous peoples, small farmers, LGBTI activists, and critics of the government; take steps to guarantee a judicial system that is capable of investigating, prosecuting, and bringing to justice soldiers and police officers who have committed human rights abuses; and fully comply with any and all audits or investigations regarding the improper use of US security aid.

“That’s a very wild suggestion” presidential spokesperson Harry Roque said, with a play on words using Wild’s name.

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“Just like in the Philippines, any congressman can file a proposed measure. But the chances of that proposed measure becoming a law is very slim. So we will let that be. That is the personal opinion of Congresswoman Susan Wild,” Roque said.

He said the Palace was confident that the Trump administration “sees the importance of continued cooperation between the [United States] and the Philippines.”

Unfair

The military said it would be unfair for the United States to suspend security aid to the Philippines based on allegations of human rights violations.

Maj. Gen. Edgard Arevalo vehemently denied the military’s involvement in human rights abuses.

“In many instances in the past, we have been solid, we have been emphatic about our position against human rights violation—that the AFP (Armed Forces of the Philippines) has no record of any human rights violations then and now,” Arevalo told reporters.

The military press officer urged critics “to bring their evidence, bring their matters that would prove such allegations so that due process would be properly observed.”

Senate President Vicente Sotto III said the Philippines would take another look at the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) if Wild’s proposal was passed into law.

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

President Duterte ordered the VFA terminated in February after the US government canceled the US visa of Sen. Ronald dela Rosa, a former national police chief who oversaw Mr. Duterte’s brutal war on drugs.

In June, however, the Philippine government suspended the termination of the military exercises agreement “in light of political and other developments in the region.”

Sen. Panfilo Lacson, head of the Senate defense committee, said US legislators would also have to take the VFA into consideration in their deliberations on Wild’s proposal.

US to lose, too

The United States also stands to lose if it approves the bill that would cut military aid to the Philippines, its mutual defense ally, Lacson said in a statement.

If Wild’s bill is approved, it would “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 and timing. And they know that for a fact,” Lacson said.

This is not the first time that US lawmakers are attempting to pass legislation that would go after the so-called enablers of the Duterte administration’s brutal policies, including the war on drugs.

Earlier this year, the United States Senate passed a resolution calling for the release of Sen. Leila de Lima and for the US government to impose sanctions outlined in the Global Magnitsky Act on individuals that had a hand on her arrest and detention for opening an investigation into the alleged extrajudicial killings in Mr. Duterte’s war on drugs.

In March 2019, a bipartisan bill was introduced in the US House of Representatives condemning the Duterte administration’s targeting of its political opponents.

In September of the same year, the San Francisco City Council passed a resolution condemning the assassination attempt on environmental activist Brandon Lee. —REPORTS FROM KRIXIA SUBINGSUBING, CATHRINE GONZALES, JULIE M. AURELIO, NESTOR CORRALES AND LEILA B. SALAVERRIA

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TAGS: assistance to police and military, Democratic Rep. Susan Wild of Pennsylvania, Malacañang, US Bill, US Congress
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