7 Points on Defense Secretary Lorenzana’s Attack on ICHRP and Response to U.S. Arms Sale

On May 13, in a press conference with President Duterte’s cabinet, Philippine Star Journalist Tina Mendez quoted a recent ICHRP-US statement that demanded accountability for newly approved U.S. arms sales to the Duterte regime, in which we noted an arms sale would be going “to state forces who are becoming only more ruthless under Covid-19.”

Philippine Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana responded to the ICHRP-US statement, saying, 

“On the commentary on why we are going to purchase those helicopters — and that we should just channel the fund in those in need . . . .   I agree with what these leftists are saying. But first you should end your armed struggle, so we will stop buying such arms. You’ve been waging your armed struggle for 50 years, and you’re just causing trouble, and you want us to stop importing arms, but you’ won’t stop fighting.” 

While red-tagging ICHRP, accusing it of involvement of the armed struggle in the Philippines, Secretary Lorenzana also claimed the Philippines could not afford the 450 million or 1.5 billion arms sales. Lorenzana further argued the arms sale is in no way connected to the termination for the Visiting Forces Agreement. 

With this development, we offer 7 points in response to Secretary Lorenzana’s claims: 

  1. The International Coalition for Human Rights in the Philippines, of which ICHRP-US is a chapter, is a coalition of organizations and institutions from different regions of the globe who are deeply concerned about the human rights situation in the Philippines and are inspired by the efforts of people’s organizations in the country to struggle for the rights and a just peace. 
  1. Lorenzana’s attacks on ICHRP and so called “leftists” evade government responsibility to hungry citizens. Lorenzana’s accusations are simple conjecture and fail to obfuscate the government’s paltry response to the needs of the people. 
  1. If the Philippine government does not have the money for the proposed deal, it is better to forego the arms sale. The Philippine government can instead direct the funds towards Covid-19 relief. According to IBON, there are currently still 6 million Filipinos who have not received the government’s promised economic relief. 
  1. The Philippine government does have money and resources, but the Duterte Administration prioritizes war spending and infrastructure building that profits rich bureaucrats and foreign corporations. Duterte’s 2020 budget saw increases in defense and infrastructure spending and a decrease in health, agriculture, and social welfare. Meanwhile, the administration has grown the trillions of dollars of debt owed to the Asian Development Bank, the World Bank, Japan, and China and the United States among others.
  1. The Armed Forces of the Philippines’ human rights’ record speaks for itself as to why it should not receive U.S. helicopters and heavy artillery. Karapatan has documented that “at least 456,103 civilians have been forcibly evacuated from their homes in the course of the Armed Forces of the Philippines’ (AFP) bombings and indiscriminate firing on communities. Victims have identified the AFP’s use of attack helicopters, jet fighters, howitzers, grenade launchers, and bombs, including white phosphorous bombs, in the said attacks.”
  1. In accordance with the framework of the previous agreements of the peace talks between the GRP and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines, until such time the roots of the armed conflict in the country are resolved– landlessness, joblessness, and extreme poverty afflicting the majority of Filipinos in the country– the armed conflict will continue.
  1. It is irrelevant whether or not this new arms sale is in direct response to the termination of the Visiting Forces Agreement. The issue here is the U.S. State Department’s approval of the arms sale indicates there are those within the U.S. government willing to sacrifice human rights for the sake of profit and military power in the Asia Pacific region. The need to campaign against the arms sale before it’s May 30th approval deadline is urgent. 

Stop Arms Sales to Duterte!

Sign the petition and join the movement here: https://bit.ly/ICHRPUSsignOn.

ICHRP-US Demands Accountability for Approved 2 Billion Dollar Arms Sale to Duterte

Philippine President Duterte’s military response to Covid-19 and “shoot-to-kill” order against violators of social distancing — condemned by human rights groups and the UN High Commissioner Michelle Bachelet — would seemingly make the United States question its regular military assistance to the Philippines. 

On Thursday, however, the United States Defense Security Cooperation Agency announced State Department approval of two new foreign military sales to the Philippines. 

The first sale, worth 450 million, includes six attack helicopters, six hellfire missiles, 26 Advanced Precision Kill Weapon System, machine guns, rocket launchers, and other technical equipment, citing the principal contractors as Bell Helicopter and General Electric Company. The second sale, worth 1.5 billion dollars, primarily contracted with Boeing and Lockheed Martin, includes another six attack helicopters but multiplies other weapons requests by the hundreds (i.e. 200 hellfire missiles and 300 Advanced Precision Kill Weapon System). 

The arms sales would be headed to Duterte’s state forces who are becoming only more ruthless under Covid-19. 

Since Duterte declared an “enhanced community quarantine,” 38,000 have been arrested for “violation of quarantine.” Luzon has seen a drastic increase in military troops deployed to the region mimicking Dutere’s previous counter-insurgecny programs in Negros and Visayas that resulted in numerous killings of activists.

 A farmer Junie Dungog Piñar from Southern Philippines was shot by military men for violating the COVID19 lockdown three days after Duterte’s shoot-them-dead order. Another farmer, Noel Galvez from West Samar was tied like an animal and tortured before he was killed last April 18. Six volunteers with Tulong Anakpawis providing relief efforts were arrested and illegally detained in Norzagaray, Bulucan. 

Just this week, Philippine police shot former army veteran Winston Ragos was shot dead in while suffering from PTSD. Jory Porquia was shot dead in front of his home after facing harassment from the Philippine National Police while working on relief project in Ilo Ilo. 

Meanwhile, Duterte has further scuttled peace talks with the National Democratic Front of the Philippines, failing to free political prisoners and failing to adhere to genuine ceasefire whilst pushing for heightening military operations against the New People’s Army. 

Duterte’s Covid response is de facto martial law — and the new U.S. arm deals will only fortify the Presidents arsenal.

ICHRP-US condemns the new arms deal in the strongest terms and demands accountability from the United States government in its foreign arm sales to the Philippines and. We call for widespread education to mobilize people against the deal. The United States Congress has 30 days to veto the deal before it passes.  

Duterte’s Military Response to COVID-19: Another Iteration of Martial Law

As COVID-19 has risen to the level of a global pandemic, President Duterte has ordered the deployment of 40,000 military and police in Metro Manila and placed all of Luzon on lockdown. Instead of giving immediate attention to the health care system and health care workers, Duterte has set up military checkpoints and empowered state forces to monitor the movement of people already facing harsh economic and social realities. 

While appalling, Duterte’s militarist response to COVID-19 keeps with the character of his violent regime; 4 years into his presidency, Duterte continues to shift from policy to policy that all manifest in de facto martial law in the country. 

Duterte’s Legacy of Militarism

After Duterte’s brutality became infamous through his “war on drugs”, the President declared martial law in Mindanao in spring 2017. The military intervention in Mindanao resulted in the flattening of Marawi City and the displacement of 400,000 people in a crackdown on activists all over the Southern Philippines. In late 2018, martial law was extended for another year in Mindanao, and Duterte created Executive Order 70 & Memorandum 32, unleashing the Task Force to End Local Communist conflict and empowering already corrupt military and police forces with the command to “prevent lawless violence.” Such policies laid the basis for Sagay Massacre in November 2018, the killing of 14 farmers in Negros in April 2019 and another spate of 21 killings in Negros in July 2019. These cases represent only a few cases of the widespread violence across the nation. 

In early 2020, after the regime lifted martial law in Mindanao, the Philippine Senate passed the “Anti-Terrorism Bill,” a piece of legislation that is anti-activist and pro-state terrorism. The language of the bill is vague, leaving more room for trumped up charges against activists and allowing arrest upon threat or suspicion of crime. The bill further empowers state forces, allowing police to keep a suspect for up to 30 days in detention before presenting the case to a court, and also limiting the ability of said suspect to travel. 

Such policies lead up to Duterte’s most recent move to militarize Manila on the basis of COVID-19, once again responding to a crisis of health and poverty with a military solution. 

Undying U.S. Support of Duterte’s Militarism

Despite the indisputably fascist nature of Duterte’s regime, the United States has not relented in it’s military support of the regime. In fact, U.S. military aid and involvement has increased since the election of Duterte. Operation Pacific Eagle, the U.S. counter-terror operation in the Philippines, began alongside the implementation of Duterte’s martial law. Duterte’s current military operation, which seeks to involve all government agencies in intelligence gathering, psy-war and military operations, is modeled after the U.S. 2009 Counter insurgency guide. In 2020, the U.S. military has planned to conduct a record setting number (over 300) joint exercises between the United States and Philippine state forces.

On the surface, it may appear that President Duterte’s recent order to terminate the Visiting Forces Agreement with the United States is a positive move forward in limiting U.S. military influence in the country.  We applaud the bold U.S. Senators and representatives who have put forth legislation holding Duterte accountable, but the United States has not flinched at Duterte’s shameful crimes. U.S. Department of State Assistant Secretary for Political-Military Affairs R. Clarke Cooper recently expressed disappointment over the VFA termination but indicated the United States will continue to pursue arms deals and procurements with the Philippines. Others, including Philippine Ambassador to the U.S, Romualdez and former U.S. Ambassador to the Philippines John Maisto, indicated a future military deal may well be in the works

If the progression of Duterte’s military policies stays true — replacing one violent policy with another — any new deal with the U.S. will only likely do the same. 

People’s Rights, Not Martial Law

The overall crisis in the Philippines calls for people’s rights: civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights, and the right to self-determination. In the specific case of the COVID-19 pandemic, it calls for the right to health. However, these are rights that the Duterte regime continuously denies with iteration after iteration of martial law. It is further a violation of the rights of working people in the United States that U.S. tax dollars continue to support the Duterte regime while many face layoff, eviction, debt and little access to health care. 

As the global pandemic and economic crisis worsens, we call for the broadest unity of people against Duterte’s military solutions and U.S. support thereof; we call for widespread political education on the situation in the Philippines as a flashpoint in the global situation, and for advocacy work across communities and all levels of government. Violations of people’s rights requires a people’s solution; the people of the world demand health care and livelihood, not martial law!

Did Duterte Just Endorse Campaign to End US Support of Duterte?”

On Wednesday January 29, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte announced that he will not allow any member of his Cabinet to travel to the United States. This announcement came just a few days after he ordered the termination of the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA), a 1998 military pact between the Philippines and US which accords legal status to US troops who were rotated in the country for military exercises and other operations. The termination order was given after Senator Ronald “Bato” Dela Rosa’s visa was canceled by the US. Dela Rosa is well known as President Duterte’s close confidant and leader of his bloody war on drugs.

It is clear that Duterte’s blatant abuses of power, leading to the egregious violations of human rights in the Philippines over the past 3 years, are ringing alarm bells for some US legislators. While the US has given Duterte’s regime 550 million dollars in military aid since 2016, the US Senate and House of Representatives have also both passed resolutions condemning the Government of the Philippines for its continued detention of Senator Leila de Lima, Senate resolution 142 and House resolution 233.  The “threat” to terminate the VFA, as well as the barring of his Cabinet members’ travels to the US, function as Duterte’s test of the loyalty of the US government, his closest military ally and most ardent supporter. 

ICHRP-US welcomes the termination of the VFA, and sees it as a key step in end support of Duterte, if it is actually enacted. Since its inception, the Filipino people have protested and pushed back against it, and against any presence of US troops in the Philippines. ICHRP-US  welcomes any action taken by the US government to withdraw its ongoing support for human rights violations in the Philippines vis-a-vis military support for Duterte’s state forces.  

As the murderous war on drugs continues in the cities, we also see the heightening of abuses against human rights defenders, in Negros and throughout the country, through Executive Order 70 and Memorandum 132 with the establishment of the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Insurgency (NTF-ELCAC), and the brutal Oplan Kapanatagan and “whole of nation approach.”  While these are sold to the people as peacekeeping and stabilizing efforts, in reality, they are nothing more than fascistic crackdowns on legal activist organizations and terror-tagging of individuals who disagree with Duterte’s policies and practices, modeled from from the 2009 U.S. counterinsurgency guide.

While Duterte tests the level of public support he can receive from the United States, it is ever more urgent we register our dismay and outrage towards ongoing U.S. support of the regime and to win over those who support human rights in the Philippines to become even bolder in advocacy. We hold strong in our support for genuine sovereignty and self-determination in the Philippines, which necessitates freedom from U.S. military intervention in the country.