Towards Accountability over “Appalling” Human Rights Situation in the Philippines

On Thursday, July 25, members of the Malaya Movement and ICHRP-US joined Chairman Brad Sherman and the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Asia, the Pacific and Nonproliferation for a hearing on Human Rights in South East Asia, featuring the Philippines. 

While Duterte’s administration has been vocal in its feedback to foreign governments who criticize his regime, Chairman Brad Sherman was blunt in his opening remarks, calling the human rights situation in the Philippines “appalling.” 

“This hearing is an important first step in the road to accountability over the human rights crisis in the Philippines,” states Drew Elizarde-Miller of ICHRP-US. “Our advocacy towards ensuring not a single US tax dollar is spent towards any form of human rights abuse in the Philippines does not end here. We will continue to advocate our lawmakers to stand with the Filipino people, especially the tens of thousands of victims of these abuses under the Duterte government and their families. This is just a beginning, there is more work to be done.”

At the hearing, Congressman Sherman recognized Beverly Longid, Chairperson of the Indigenous People’s Movement for Self-Determination and Liberation. Longid, one of the activists listed on Duterte’s terror list that vilified human rights defenders, explained the human rights situation in the Philippines in an interview prior to the hearing: “One killing is one killing too many, especially if it’s done in the context of violating due process of law . . . it speaks of the danger human rights defenders or activists or anyone critical of the Philippine government face, where you can find yourself in a situation where you are arrested, incarcerated or probably dead.”

Attacks on Human Rights Defenders, Indigenous People

Francisco Bencosme, the Asia Pacific Advocacy Manager at Amnesty International, testified at the hearing. Bencosme’s testimony highlighted the recent killing of a three year old, Myka Ulpina, in the war on drugs, as well as the regime’s attacks on human rights defenders, including death threats on Cristina Palabay and other Karapatan human rights workers. Bencosme shared, “There is an urgent need, particularly in the context of extrajudicial killings and other human rights violations, to make this a priority.”

Ann Wagner, Congresswoman from Missouri, raised the problem of threats on indigenous people. Wagner stated, “I am especially concerned about the plight of indigenous people in the Philippines. In Mindanao, which has been under Martial law since May of 2017, the Duterte Administration has committed these extrajudicial, illegal killings, illegal arrests, and attacks on indigenous schools set up in partnership with NGO’s.” 

Bencosme elaborated on government attacks on the indigenous people and human rights defenders: “The way the Philippines government acts is it red-tags them — legitimate organizations — or it brands them as communist fronts, which has led to an increase in harassment or attacks by unknown individuals against them.”

During an interview, Longid further explained the impact on indigenous people: “The attacks have been relentless because we have been facing intensified intrusion into our ancestral lands because of the government’s ‘Build Build Build’ policy that would bring in destructive projects like mining, corporate energy projects and plantations. Alongside the ‘Build Build Build’ policy is Duterte’s ‘kill kill kill’ policy against people who are resisting, dissenting, or critical to his policy or programs.”  

US Aid to the Philippines, Call for Investigation 

Deemed a “a major non-NATO ally” by Congressman Sherman, the United States maintains strong economic and military interests in the region, sending 193.5 million dollars in aid to the Philippine military and police in 2018 alone.  Even this amount is just one aspect of military aid to the Philippines — this number does not include arms sales, donated equipment of unreported worth, nor the costs of annual joint trainings like the Balikatan exercises. In a statement, Ecumenical Advocacy Network on the Philippines, made recommendations on how to deal with U.S. support of Philippine military and police.

Congressman Gerry Connolly of Virginia noted the importance of U.S. opposition to Duterte’s crimes, saying, “by not speaking out, he [President Trump] has, in fact, sadly encouraged Duterte and his vigilantes to persist, if not expand, their gross violations of human rights.”

“Now that US lawmakers have posed their questions, it’s time to investigate what is happening on the ground to get the answers,” states Yves Nibungco of Malaya Movement. “A US Congressional investigation on how exactly US aid to the Philippines, particularly to the Armed Forces of the Philippines and the Philippine National Police, is spent should be conducted, in order to make certain such aid is uplifting the lives of the Filipino people and safeguarding human rights and democracy. Until then we call on US aid to the Philippine be withheld or for a temporary moratorium pending such an investigation.”

Earlier this month, the United Nations Human Rights Council  (UNHRC) in Geneva passed a resolution to conduct an independent investigation on the human rights situation in the Philippines, the findings of which would be included in a comprehensive country report. 

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