Gabriela South Bay released an open letter through Instagram last August 21, 2020, appealing to the United States Congress to halt providing aid to the Philippine military following reports of human rights violations in the Philippines.
Addressed to California’s 47th District Representative Alan Lowenthal, the organization, a South California-based branch of the Filipino women’s group Gabriela, called for the introduction of the Philippine Human Rights Act (PHRA). This would effectively cease any support given to Philippine state forces, and to hold all responsible parties accountable.
“As community members working to ensure accountability and the upholding of human rights, we endorse the Philippines Human Rights Act, which would suspend U.S. taxpayer-funded military aid to the Philippines until security officials stop the routine violations of human rights and those responsible for abuses are held accountable,” the group said.
According to them, despite reports of human rights violations in the Philippines, including a July 2019 report from the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner on Human Rights, the US government still provided $550 million in military aid since 2016.
They have also cited the War on Drugs (which they cited as having a body count of around 30,000, as per human rights alliances), and the displacement of 456,103 civilians due to bombings allegedly orchestrated by the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP).
“A recent report names the Philippines as one of the deadliest places in Asia for attacks against environmental defenders. Freedom of the press[,] the freedom of speech is met with arrest, intimidation and murder,” they said.
Gabriela South Bay urged Lowenthal to also call for a congressional hearing on the realities and implications of the Anti-Terror Law. The group sought 50 signatures for their open letter by September 1.
“We call on the community to take a stand and organize efforts towards true collective action for the human rights and genuine democracy of the Filipino people,” Gabriela South Bay said.
Endorsing the PHRA
On June 19, 2020, the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO) had also released a statement endorsing PHRA, explaining that the US taxpayer-funded military aid to the Philippines is being used to sustain the repression of human rights in the country.
“Meanwhile, the United States continues to provide taxpayer dollars to the Philippines military and police forces that are actively engaged in these egregious human rights violations…These weapons provided by US taxpayers are turned on our brothers and sisters struggling for worker justice,” AFL-CIO said.
AFL-CIO further explained that the Duterte administration has used the COVID-19 pandemic as a tool for repression. They have cited the arrests of human rights and LGBTQI+ activists as a manifestation of such abuses.
“Thousands more have been arrested for supposedly violating terms of the lockdown. It is outrageous that the Duterte administration would use a global health pandemic as cover to silence workers’ voices,” AFL-CIO stated.
Also co-sponsoring the PHRA are the ICHRP-US, Communication Workers of America, United Methodist Church General Board of Church and Society, the United Church of Christ Justice and Peace Ministries, the Ecumenial Advocacy Network on the Philippines, the Malaya Movement and the Kabataan Filipino-American Youth Alliance based in Washington DC. These organizations have formed a coalition to endorse the bill and support and protect human rights in the Philippines.
A two billion dollar arms deal
Many organizations in the US have also expressed concern regarding the US’s continued security assistance to the Philippines, even with the alarming increase of human rights violations and arrests amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
On May 1, the United States International Coalition for Human Rights in the Philippines (ICHRP-US) released a statement demanding accountability from the United States government after the United States Defense Security Cooperation Agency announced the approval of two new foreign military sales to the Philippines amounting to $2 billion.
“Duterte’s Covid response is de facto martial law — and the new U.S. arm deals will only fortify the President[‘]s arsenal,” the ICHRP-US stated.
These deals cost $450 million and $1.5 billion separately, though in both transactions, only weapons were bought.
Among these purchases included 12 attack helicopters, hundreds of weapons such as hellfire missiles, Advanced Precision Kill Weapon Systems, machine guns, rocket launchers and other technical equipment. ICHRP-US believed that the arms sales would only provide ammunition to the soldiers waging Duterte’s War on Drugs.
“The arms sales would be headed to Duterte’s state forces who are becoming only more ruthless under COVID-19,” ICHRP-US said. [P]
Photo from Gabriela South Bay