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!

Portland Human Rights Commission Votes in Favor of Resolution to Suspend Military Aid to Duterte Regime

Portland, OR — In the evening of January 8th, the Portland Human Rights commission voted to submit a historic resolution to the Portland City Council to suspend U.S. military Aid to the Philippines. Since 2016, the U.S. has provided the Philippines with over 550 million dollars in military aid, despite Philippine President Duterte’s infamous and widespread human rights violations that have resulted in over 30,000 killings in the country.  

Dozens of Filipino human rights activists and community members joined the Portland Human Rights Commission meeting to support the resolution and testify about the effects of Duterte’s “war on drugs” and crackdown on human rights defenders.

“Youth should not have to grow up looking down the barrel of a gun” said Veronica Porter from GABRIELA Portland and the Malaya Movement, describing the situation of many youth growing up in the Philippines who are facing indiscriminate harassment from state forces. Porter recently returned from a delegation to Panay island in the Visayas, Philippines. 

Dr. Crystallee Crain, Portland Human Rights Commissioner and author of the resolution, stated, “I believe that it’s important to use our voices for change and to impress upon the leaders of the city, state, and country that we do not support these violations of human rights.”

Clearly moved by the constituent testimonies, the Commission voted 6-1-1 to push for the resolution at the level of Portland City Council. The Commission also voted to write a public statement of support. The current draft of the resolution will be submitted for a vote at Portland City Council on a later date yet to be determined. 

“While this is a big step in the right direction, I encourage leaders in Congress to divest unnecessary military aid that are being unjustly utilized. We should not allow our elected officials to squander tax dollars to dictatorships that aim to bolster their own power. We need massive review and reform of appropriations on the federal level. Our local work is meant to catalyze the movement in that direction,” continued Dr. Crain. 

Sam Miller, Regional Coordinator for the Portland Chapter of the International Coalition for Human Rights in the Philippines, added, “In a progressive city like Portland, this is an important move forward in living those progressive values on an international level. I applaud the members of the Human Rights Commission for recognizing the interconnectedness of their advocacy for human rights in Portland and the global struggle for freedom, democracy and justice.”

The Portland resolution is a part of growing diplomatic pressure against Duterte and a contribution to the U.S.-wide campaign to suspend military aid to the Philippines. In 2019, the United Nations Human Rights Council passed a resolution calling for an investigation of the human rights situation in the Philippines, and in September, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors passed a similar resolution, which calls for the suspension of military aid to the Philippines. On the same day of the Portland Human Rights Commission vote, the U.S. Senate passed Resolution S142, which condemns human rights violations in the Philippines and the detention of Senator Leila De Lima and harassment of journalist and Time Magazine Person of the year Maria Ressa. 

Support the Filipino People’s Struggle, Not U.S. War

On December 10th, Rodrigo Duterte’s spokesperson announced the President would lift martial law in Mindanao two years after its initial implementation. This is a welcome development; however, under a President who has authored 30,000 killings in a war on drugs and unleashed endless attacks against human rights defenders, the move to lift martial law in Mindanao neither absolves Duterte’s guilt nor indicates a change a halt to the Presidents growing list of crimes against humanity. 


The news brings further attention to the fact that Duterte has not needed to declare martial law over the whole country in order to carry out military rule; Duterte has instead implemented Executive Order 70, the National Task Force to End Local communist armed conflict, and Memorandum 32, a redeployment of state forces to “suppress lawless violence.” According to Karapatan, Duterte’s program of harassment and violence have resulted in 293 political killings, at least 204 people tortured, 429 victims of frustrated extrajudicial killings, 94,075 threatened and harassed and the arrests of 382 of the 629 political detainees in the country. As long as Duterte can continue such a level of repression with impunity, he has no need for any formal declaration of martial law. 

But whatever guise Duterte uses to try and obscure his dictatorship, his attempts to dupe people in the Philippines and abroad are failing. As evident in the UN Human Rights Council investigation on human rights in the Philippines, the International Criminal Court movement towards its own investigation, the recent statement from U.S. Presidential candidate Bernie Sanders against repression of workers and unions in the Philippines, and in the growing number of people protesting Duterte worldwide, international dissent against the regime continues to grow. Even Bono is calling Duterte to accountability.  

Still, there are those who lend support to Duterte. Since 2016, the U.S. has supplied $554.55 million in defense assistance to the regime. Furthermore, In a recent report from the Commission on Human Rights in the Philippines, “47 major companies, including Shell, ExxonMobil, Chevron, BP and Total, could be found legally and morally liable for human rights harms to Filipinos resulting from climate change.”  Whether it is President Trump or multinational corporations, only those who seek to profit from the exploitation of Filipinos align with Duterte. In the end, those who do win financial gains from political repression are far outnumbered by those of us who support and uphold human rights in the Philippines; what remains for us is to organize more broadly and boldly. 

On International Human Rights Day, ICHRP-US declares our unequivocal solidarity with the Filipino people, and we voice our support not only for individual and civil rights in the Philippines, but to the Filipino people’s collective right to self-determination and national liberation. While millions of dollars flow to U.S. defense assistance and multinational corporations that exploit people and their land, we call on people in the U.S. to join the solidarity movement for the Philippines and support the Filipino people’s struggle, not U.S. war and exploitation! 

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