Hundreds of Faith, Labor, Human Rights Leaders Urge Restrictions on US Military Aid to the Philippines


Rev. Larry Emery, (916) 284-6986, wgcpc[at] (West Coast)
Katrina Abarcar, (410) 998-9802, katarungan[at] (East Coast)


Monday, February 9, 2009— 236 leaders of faith-based organizations, union and labor rights groups, Filipino-American associations and academics sent a letter of concern today to members of Congress protesting human rights abuses by the Philippines, funded by US foreign military assistance.

Widespread accounts, including reports from the United Nations Special Rapporteur for extrajudicial killings, Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, have documented how the military is responsible for the extrajudicial executions of human rights activists, union members, land reform advocates and faith leaders. Ignoring international calls for prosecutions of military officials responsible for attacks on civil society activists, as well as the recommendations from a commission created by President Arroyo herself, the military continues its campaign to abuse human rights with impunity. In one particular case, the Philippine Supreme Court has found that there is credible evidence linking retired general Jovito Palaparan to the disappearance and torture of at least two farmers and possibly many others, yet the President Arroyo has not even called for an investigation to be opened.

Katrina Abarcar, of the Katarungan: Center for Peace, Justice, and Human Rights in the Philippines, Baltimore, MD, noted, “What’s most troubling is the Philippine government has sought to improve its human rights reputation through a PR campaign rather than through actual prosecutions or convictions of those behind the killings and abductions. The praise and rewards heaped on retired Major General Jovito Palparan, who is currently being considered for another government post, speaks volumes about the Philippine government’s commitment to protecting human rights.”

The US government continues to provide military assistance to the Armed Forces of the Philippines despite the documented human rights abuses and widespread impunity. Last year, the US Congress took an important step forward by conditioning a small part of US military aid to the Philippines ($2 million out of a total of $30 million in Foreign Military Financing) on the three conditions: (1) the Philippine government’s successful implementation of the UN Special Rapporteur’s recommendations, (2) prosecution of those responsible for human rights violations, and (3) the end of the vilification of civil society organizations by the military. However, abuses by the Philippines military continued throughout 2008, and the US government did not publicly report on any of the military aid conditions.

In the letter delivered to members of Congress today, a broad and powerful network of church, labor, and Fil-Am groups, including leaders in many of the major protestant denominations, the National Council of Churches of America, the AFL-CIO and Service Employees International Union, called on the US Congress to require that:
1. The Department of State’s human rights certification be made publicly available in order to promote greater transparency and understanding between the United States and the people of the Philippines;
2. The human rights conditions on military aid enumerated above are in the all upcoming appropriations bills; and
3. The Philippine government receives no further foreign military financing until it meets all of three human rights conditions.

Cally Rogers-Witte, Executive Minister or Wider Church Ministries, Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and United Church of Christ, said, “I met privately with the widow of a Conference Minister of our partner church in the Philippines, the United Church of Christ in the Philippines. She told the tragic story of her husband’s assassination in their back-yard, in front of the children, for having officiated at the funeral of someone else who had been assassinated. I wish I could speak face-to-face personally with every member of Congress to help them understand how important this effort is. Our government can play a key role in encouraging the government of the Philippines to bring to justice the people involved in these assassinations and disappearances.”

Rev. Larry Emery, a Reverend at the Walnut Grove Community Church in Sacramento, CA said, “People from the Philippines are reaching out to us to help them in the midst of the oppression they are facing. Even the chair of Human Rights Commission in the Philippines said to me that what would help the most would be increased international attention and pressure on the government to end human rights abuses. It is time for us to start listening to our friends and colleagues in the Philippines and do our part to ensure that our military assistance is not making the human rights situation worse by empowering a military that is completely unaccountable.”

Decisions related to foreign military financing are primarily made by the House and Senate Appropriations Committees. As chairs of those committees, Senator Daniel Inouye (D-HI) and Representative David R. Obey can play a leading role in promoting the protection of human rights by ensuring stronger conditions on military aid to the Philippines this year.

The letter can be viewed online here: