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Stop U.S. Funding for Human Rights Abuses in the Philippines

Hawaii and the Philippines share a long history. The expansion of the U.S. beyond the North American continent began with the overthrow of the Kingdom of Hawaii in 1893.

With its victory in the Spanish-American War of 1898, the U.S. gained control over the Philippines, Guam, Cuba and Puerto Rico. The Philippines was a colonial possession of the U.S. from 1899 until 1946, except for the period of Japanese military occupation during World War II.

While the Philippines nominally gained independence in 1946, the 1947 Military Bases Agreement (MBA) guaranteed U.S. possession of Clark Air Base and the Subic Bay Naval Base, formerly the largest overseas U.S. bases. In response to a growing anti-bases, anti-nuclear movement of Filipinos, the Philippine Senate rejected the extension of the MBA in 1991 and U.S. control of the bases ended.

However, after Typhoon Yolanda/Haiyan in 2013, the U.S. military provided disaster relief and, in 2014, the Philippine government agreed to grant the U.S. access to and use of Philippines bases.

In May 2017, a battle for Marawi City in Mindanao between Islamic State-inspired groups and the Philippine Army led to increased U.S. military involvement in the Philippines. The U.S. military claims it seeks to win the hearts and minds of the people of Mindanao while also providing combat training to the Philippine Army.

Through Operation Pacific Eagle, an “overseas contingency operation” not subject to congressional spending limits, the U.S. provided $100 million last year in military aid, and this aid is projected this year to increase to $108 million. In fiscal 2018, the U.S. sold the AFP (Armed Forces of the Philippines) and the Philippine National Police over $63 million in arms. It also donated 2,253 machine guns and over 5 million rounds of ammunition. All in all, over $184 million was given to the Philippine military and police in 2018.

While the announced intent of this U.S. aid is to combat ISIS and support the Philippines as a bulwark against China’s expansion in the South China Sea, the truth is this aid goes to support President Rodrigo Duterte’s oppressive regime.

While Mindanao has been under martial law since 2017, the Philippines as a whole is now under de facto martial law, with arbitrary killings and jailings now increasingly commonplace.

Since Duterte became president in June 2016, more than 27,000 individuals have been killed. The majority of these killings have been extrajudicial killings (EJKs) of the poor who have been labeled drug users or drug traffickers.

In EJKs, police, military operatives or unknown persons accost or apprehend individuals on the street or at their homes and shoot them without trial.

More recently the regime is targeting human rights advocates, labor organizers, farmers, indigenous people and persons the regime views as opponents.

Fourteen farmers were recently killed by the police in Negros. Several human rights attorneys and advocates have been assassinated and journalists threatened and jailed.

Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have condemned these killings, detentions and human rights abuses of the Duterte administration. For its part, the government claims that the number of EJKs is closer to 5,000, but isn’t that 5,000 too many?

The U.S. government is helping to fund these atrocities and abuses by providing funds, training and arms to those who are carrying out these killings.

We in Hawaii need to contact our congressional representatives to urge them to stop our government from funding the perpetrators of these human rights violations in the Philippines.

JOHN WITECK is a retired labor unionist and human resources who currently works part-time for the State Department of Education and is a lecturer at the Honolulu Community College. He has been hosted on four occasions by labor, community, and human rights organizations in the Philippines and attended International Solidarity events. He edited the bimonthly periodical Philippine Labor Alert for over a decade. SEIJI YAMADA is a family physician practicing and teaching in Hawaii.

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