Harris visit threatens peace, aggravates rights situation in PH –APRN

By APRN | November 21, 2022

New $100 million US military support to fund killings, rights abuses in the Philippines says research group

The Asia Pacific Research Network (APRN) warns the public of greater escalation of human rights abuses in the Philippines amid the visit of US Vice President Kamala Harris to the southeast Asian country. “The US is currently preparing to bring gifts of bombs and arms worth 100 million dollars. Kamala’s [Harris] visit is neither of peace nor benefit to the Filipino people and we should be alarmed,” says APRN. 

Harris, for the first time, arrived in the Philippines last November 20 after attending the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) CEO Summit in Thailand. Deemed the highest-level trip by a US official to the country under Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos, Jr., it aims to strengthen the “security alliance and economic relationship” between the US and the current administration. 

“This calculated visit is not only a diplomatic move towards greater US-PH relations but a direct rehabilitation of the autocratic Marcos government as US lackey,” says APRN.  

Just last month, the US Congress approved 100 million dollars worth of foreign military financing to the Philippines. It is still undisclosed whether the intended “aid” will come in the form of a grant or a direct loan.

The staggering military funding was proposed amid the continued deterioration of the human rights situation in the country. In early November, the members of the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) called out the Philippine government on its gross violation of human rights. 

The UN Committee recognized the need to urgently address the continuing state-sponsored abuses and drug-related killings. It recommended that Marcos government should “investigate and prosecute in a timely manner all cases of past human rights violations and ensure that perpetrators are brought to justice.”

Between July and November of this year, 127 people died in the drug war, perpetrated mainly by state forces according to the University of the Philippines Third World Studies Center (UPTWS).

“The culture of impunity and policy of killings did not stop with [former] president Duterte. Two journalists and 10 rural poor were killed just 100 days into Marcos Jr.’s presidency. Civil society organizations, the right to freedom of association and freedom of expression, have also been under grave threat,” says Rochelle Porras of the Ecumenical Institute for Labor Education and Research (EILER), a member of APRN. 

Porras added that two labor rights defenders were recently arrested for trumped-up charges and continue to be harassed. The unlawful arrest of unionists Kara Taggaoa and Larry Valbuena happened last October 10, days after the murder of Percival “Percy Lapid” Mabasa who is the second journalist killed under the Marcos administration. 

US-Harris’ true intentions

Last 2021, US State Department’s admitted in its report on human rights practices in the Philippines that there are “[s]ignificant human rights issues” that include “unlawful or arbitrary killings, including extrajudicial killings, by and on behalf of the government.”

“It is really hard to believe that the US and Harris are oblivious to the continuing rights violations by the Marcos government. Apparently, they are willing to turn a blind eye to these abuses for the sake of securing their interests in the country and the region,” says APRN Board of Convenors Chairperson, Azra Sayeed. 

According to APRN, Harris’ visit is not only about reviving relations with Washington’s oldest ally in Asia but is part of the US’ efforts to counter China’s influence in the region. 

Harris is scheduled to meet with President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. and Vice President Sara Duterte. She is also expected to visit the island of Palawan located at the edge of the West Philippine Sea. The area is heavily disputed by China and the Philippines as Beijing continues to claim and build infrastructure in islands and waters off Palawan. 

“Seemingly backing the Philippines in the West Philippine Sea, Harris’ attempt to stir the pot only complicates the situation and can only be considered warmongering. This only escalates the tensions and further threatens the peace and security in the Philippines and the region,” says Sayeed. 

Filipino fisherfolk have consistently opposed US-PH military exercises and warned about the volatility of the situation in the West Philippine Sea. In a statement, the biggest alliance of fisherfolk in the country said that the “territorial waters in the West Philippine Sea are already militarized by China, and the last thing we need is another superpower carrying out power-projection and naval operations that pose another security threat to Filipino fishers. We want our fishing grounds demilitarized so we could fish in peace.” 

Receiving 1.14 billion dollars in aircraft, warships, armored vehicles, guns, and other military supplies and training from 2015 to 2022, the Philippines is by far the greatest recipient of US military aid in the Indo-Pacific area. 

APRN asserted that the US Vice-President’s visit and the ballooning military financing to the Philippines are part of the Indo-Pacific strategy to “out-compete” China as it threatens US’ political and economic dominance. 

“Historically, the US has been responsible for destabilizing entire regions and nations. They continue to do this in the Philippines and with the new military aid, they will fuel conflicts allowing human rights abuses to escalate. They have been complicit in this by arming oppressive Philippine regimes to conduct war crimes and they are doing it again with the Marcos government,” Sayeed ends.#

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