US report on rights situation in the Philippines ‘hypocritical,’ says rights group

“It is image building. The US government is trying to soften its image among Filipinos and also in the international community as it prepares for an increased and permanent presence in the Philippines for its vaunted Asian pivot.”

By JANESS ANN J. ELLAO
Bulatlat.com

MANILA – Human rights group Karapatan criticized the recent US State Department report as “hypocritical,” citing that state-instigated killings, enforced disappearances among other human rights violations, are funded by the US through military aid and deployment of its troops.

“The US government foments human rights abuses in the Philippines by filling up the military war chest of the Aquino government. The US military aid is used for the implementation of Oplan Bayanihan, which already victimized thousands of Filipinos especially in rural areas,” Cristina Palabay, secretary general of Karapatan, said.

Oplan Bayanihan is the counterinsurgency program under President Aquino, patterned after the US Counterinsurgency Guide of 2009. Progressive organizations said the counterinsurgency program has been used to silence critics of the administration, including activists and journalists.

Karapatan documented 169 victims of extra-judicial killings from July 2010 to December 2013. During the International Human Rights Day last December, the group said there are also 18 cases of enforced disappearances, 168 frustrated killings, 358 illegal arrests and detentions on trumped up charges, torture, among other human rights violations.

The US State Department, in its report, said that, “extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances undertaken by security forces; a dysfunctional criminal justice system notable for poor cooperation between police and investigators, few prosecutions, and lengthy procedural delays; and widespread official corruption and abuse of power.”

Its report also noted other human rights violations such as torture, harassment against activists, warrantless arrests, detention, killings and harassment of journalists, internally displaced persons, violence against women and children, gender-based discrimination, ineffective enforcement of workers rights, among others.

“Impunity persists precisely because of US backing. For its own political and economic interests, the US propped up regimes which are human rights violators — from the time of the Marcos dictatorship up to the present,” Palabay said.

Military aid

Palabay said the report came out two months after US State Secretary John Kerry announced a $40 million pledge in military aid to the Philippines. The military aid, according to a report, would supposedly help the Philippines in its maritime defense capabilities and the counterinsurgency program in Mindanao.

Kerry, who recently visited the Philippines and met President Aquino, said in a Voice of America report that the meeting is aimed at allowing the presence of more US troops and ships to dock in and out of the country as part of its rotational presence in the Southeast Asia.

“The US is committed to working with the Philippines to address its most pressing security challenges, that’s why we are negotiating a strong and enduring framework agreement that would enhance defense cooperation under our alliance,” Kerry said in a Philippine Daily Inquirer report.

A report published on The Nation said the Philippine government received $507 million in military assistance from 2001 and 2010. Military aid decreased to $11.9 million in 2011, following a 2007 senate hearing on the involvement of the Armed Forces of the Philippines on cases of human rights violations.

But the report added that military aid rose to $30 million in 2012 and another $50 million the following year.

“It is image building. The US government is trying to soften its image among Filipinos and also in the international community as it prepares for an increased and permanent presence in the Philippines for its vaunted Asian pivot,” Palabay said.

Government’s response not enough

Commission on Human Rights chairperson Etta Rosales told the Philippine Daily Inquirer that the “State Department’s report makes sense” and that despite efforts of the Armed Forces of the Philippines to “try and improve,” extrajudicial killings have not been eradicated.

“We acknowledge that there are few convictions for extrajudicial killings in this administration,” Mark Cebreros, spokesperson of the Commission on Human Rights, said in a report.

Presidential spokesperson Abigail Valte said, “We’ll have the national government agencies go through it and address particular areas of concern, focusing on what can be done to further our efforts (to improve).”

Palabay, for her part, said, “impunity exists because there is not one perpetrator arrested, persecuted and jailed — they are even being promoted. The Commission on Human Rights cannot simply agree to the report. It is equally accountable because it issued clearances to military officials promoted by Aquino despite pending court cases against them.” ()

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