Military Aid to the Philippines
Democracy and freedom in the Philippines are on the retreat as a result of the Philippine government’s counter-insurgency operations.
In January 2008, Freedom House noted that democracy and freedom are on the retreat in the Philippines, downgrading it to a “partly free” country for the second consecutive year because of the human rights abuses of the Philippine military and corruption at the highest levels of the government. (Freedom House, Freedom in Retreat: Is the Tide Turning?, January 2008.)
President Arroyo “very effectively wields the substantial powers of the presidency to keep herself in office, and in the process she exhibits no qualms about further undermining the country’s already weak political institutions.” (Paul D. Hutchcroft, The Arroyo Imbroglio in the Philippines, Journal of Democracy, NED: Jan. 2008.)
As a result, Filipinos are growing increasingly disenchanted with democracy where, between 2001 and 2005, satisfaction amongst the Filipino people with the Philippine “democratic” institutions has dropped from 54 percent to only 39 percent of the population. (Larry Diamond, The Democratic Rollback: Resurgence of the Predatory State. Foreign Affairs, March/April 2008, p. 36.)
The Philippine government and military are responsible for the continued murder and abductions of church leaders, trade unionists, and advocates for human rights.
President Arroyo depends on the political support of the military leadership to remain in power, which, “combined with her administration’s own inclination to launch a crackdown,” has led to the . . . declaration of an ‘all-out war’ against the nearly three-decade-old communist insurgency.” (Paul D. Hutchcroft, The Arroyo Imbroglio in the Philippines, Journal of Democracy, NED: Jan. 2008.)
The U.N. Rapporteur on extrajudicial killings has noted that it is President Arroyo’s counter-insurgency that has led to widespread politically motivated killings in the Philippines that have led to the killing, abduction and torture of church leaders, human rights defenders, trade unionists, and land reform advocates. (Prof. Philip Alston, U.N. Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial killings, summary or arbitrary executions, Report on the Philippines, available at www.extrajudicialexecutions.org.)
According to the U.N. Rapporteur, those killed are carefully selected by the military who then “systematically hunts down”, abducts, interrogates, tortures and murders civil society leaders “following a campaign designed to instill fear into the community” often because they simply sympathize with alleged “enemies of the state.”
The U.N. Rapporteur notes that the military’s goal is to intimidate a much larger number of civil society actors, many of whom have, as a result, been placed on notice that the same fate awaits them if they continue their activism.”
The killings and abductions of church leaders, members of trade unions, and other political and social activists have continued in 2007 and 2008.
The Philippine government does not have the political will to take the serious, meaningful measures needed to end the killings and disappearances and provide justice for the victims.
Current and former military officers credibly alleged to be responsible for extra-judicial killings and enforced disappearances have not been suspended, investigated or fully prosecuted for their role in the killings, perpetuating the predominant climate of impunity.
The President Arroyo has chosen instead to implement several bureaucratic measures, including (1) establishing and then disbanding specially-designated courts; (2) forming a human-rights office within the Armed Forces, and (3) setting up no less than five governmental investigative bodies with the same mandate. For a full list of efforts to end the killings undertaken by the Philippine government, please see GRP Post-hearing Brief to the GSP Subcommittee of the United States Trade Representative, at 10 – 11, available at http://www.laborrights.org/end-violence-against-trade-unions/philippines/resources/1123
The Philippine government continues to deny the military’s involvement in the killings and disappearances. To the extent that evidence points to the military, the government blames it on “military adventurism” and argues that “the action of some elements of the military cannot and should not be equated to GRP action.
The U.N. Special Rapporteur noted that the military was in a “state of denial” about its role in the killings. Human Rights Watch (HRW) has cited this state of denial and the “unwillingness of senior military officials” to recognize command responsibility as a “roadblock” to prosecutions.
Even the Philippines Court of Appeals and the Melo Commission, appointed by President Arroyo herself to investigate the killings, have criticized the military for incomplete or superficial efforts to investigate the killings and abductions linked to the military.
In the meantime, President Arroyo’s superficial efforts to address the killings have forced the Philippine Supreme Court to step in and create the Writ of Amparo, a new and extraordinary legal remedy in the Philippines for victims of human rights abuses meant to protect their right to of life, liberty, and security against any “violation by an unlawful act or omission by a public official...”
International pressure that focused a spotlight on the killings in 2007, including the U.N. Rapporteur’s investigation, a well publicized hearing convened by Senator Boxer in March, and human rights conditions placed on U.S. military aid, has been tremendously successful in pressuring Pres. Arroyo and the military to end the killings. As a result, the killings have gone down in 2007.
The Departments of State and Defense will give over $149 million in military aid to the Philippines in 2008 without protesting the military’s role in the killings.
Since President Arroyo came to power in 2001 and implemented her counter-insurgency strategy that resulted in a rapid rise in killings, the Center for Defense Intelligence notes that U.S. military assistance to the Philippines has also increased by over 15 times from the previous five years, exceeding $406 million dollars between 2001 and 2006. (See Center for Defense Intelligence, 2007. Available at http://www.cdi.org/PDFs/philippines.pdf.)
Of the estimated $149 million in military aid the U.S. is providing the Philippines this year, only $2 million of Foreign Military Financing (FMF) is directly conditioned on the Philippine government successfully implementing the U.N. Rapporteur’s recommendations, prosecuting the military officials responsible, and ending the killings. The other $147 million will be provided with no questions asked.
HRW reports that “the U.S. Department of Defense has not publicly expressed any concern that those implicated in killings are not even suspended from duty while being investigated, nor has there been a public discussion about ‘professionalizing’ a military that refuses to abide by the ‘core concept of command responsibility’ and who refuses to end abuses.” (Comments by Sophie Richardson, HRW Asia Advocacy Director, on January 31, 2008, available at http://hrw.org/english/docs/2008/01/31/philip18036.htm)
According to HRW, the U.S. military “seems to accept that the extrajudicial killings are a necessary response to a national security crisis and the ‘war on terror’”, citing the testimony of Navy Admiral William Fallon, who failed to consider the military abuses when reporting that with U.S. assistance, the “Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and civilian authorities have improved their ability to coordinate and sustain counterterrorism operations.”
Oversight of U.S. military aid to the Philippines is ineffective and relies on weak institutions with little power to investigate human rights abuses by the AFP.
In 2005, the Government Accountability Office (GAO), Congress’s investigative arm, found that the U.S. government’s oversight of our military aid and training to the Philippines was weak and ineffective. (Government Accountability Office, Southeast Asia: Better Human Rights Reviews and Strategic Planning Needed for U.S. Assistance to Foreign Security Forces. July 2005, GAO-05-793.)
Also, the U.S. government relies heavily on the ability of the Commission on Human Rights in the Philippines (CHRP) to monitor military abuses, despite the fact that the U.N. Special Rapporteur found that the Commission lacks the necessary investigators, resources, and procedures to effectively monitor human rights abuses during military operations.
Congress must act to ensure that U.S. military aid to the Philippines, if any, is transparent and accountable to prevent directly or indirectly promoting human rights abuses and the current “democratic rollback” in the Philippines.
Congress must not provide military aid to the Philippines until the U.S. Departments of State and Defense can publicly certify that the Philippine government is
(1) fully implementing the recommendations of the U.N Rapporteur;
(2) strictly enforcing a policy of command responsibility by suspending, investigating and prosecuting military personnel credibly alleged to be responsible for human rights violations; and
(3) ensuring that Filipinos live in a country free of fear and violence where they can freely exercise their rights.