“Tax dollars should not fund the Philippine military death squad. I urge you in Congress to pass the Philippine Human Rights Act.”
By ANNE MARXZE D. UMIL
MANILA – An American lawmaker reintroduced the Philippine Human Rights Act this month as rights groups commemorated the second anniversary of those who were killed in Southern Tagalog on March 7, 2021.
The PHRA seeks to suspend US government funding for the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and the Philippine National Police (PNP) until there are reforms made in the human rights situations in the Philippines.
The proposed measure was cosponsored by other legislatures in the US Congress. It was first introduced in 2020.
In an online press briefing on Tuesday, March 21, Representative Susan Wild said that “foreign policy is about people’s lives.”
“That’s why I’m proud to have introduced the Philippine Human Rights Act every Congress since I began serving. It’s why I reintroduced the bill earlier this month, and why I’m going to keep fighting for human rights in the Philippines in every capacity that I have—including as a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee and the Ranking Member of the subcommittee tasked with overseeing human rights around the world,” Wild said.
“When the United States Government provides unconditional support for state security forces in the Philippines despite a horrific record of mass extrajudicial killings, arbitrary imprisonment and lack of due process, torture, and inhumane prison conditions, that affects people’s lives,” Wild said.
Wild lamented the attacks against the labor sector and dissidents as well as the attempt on the life of Brandon Lee, a human rights defender and journalist who was shot in front of his house in Ifugao in August 2019. Lee was flown back to the US where he is also a citizen. While he survived the attack, Lee has suffered permanent physical injuries.
In a video message, Lee said that rights violations in the Philippines continues even under the new administration of Ferdinand Marcos Jr.
“Attacks are still ongoing under Marcos – red-tagging, militarization, bombings of communities. These are the response of the government to the indigenous people’s struggles against mining and other issues in the north. There has been no accountability and impunity continues,” Lee said.
“Tax dollars should not fund the Philippine military death squad. I urge you in Congress to pass the Philippine Human Rights Act,” Lee added.
Michelle Sherman of Pax Christi USA also said that in an interfaith fellowship learning tour that was organized by the International Coalition for Human Rights in the Philippines (ICHRP) and the National Council of Churches in the Philippines (NCCP) this month, they have documented over a hundred cases of rights violations.
One of these is the fake surrender of peasant farmers and fisherfolks among others with the military forcing them to be state assets in their communities.
“The AFP is incentivized to produce fake surrenderees as they receive money for each person that surrenders. People are pressured through threats of violence to surrender even if they, themselves are non combatants, nor have any affiliation to armed combatants. Higher money rewards are given if they claim the defeat of an NPA camp,” Sherman said.
Meanwhile, Liezel Asuncion, widow of killed trade unionist Emmanuel “Manny” Asuncion expressed her support to the PHRA. She lamented that the perpetrators to the murder of her husband have not been held accountable.
“Just last January, I urged government prosecutors to reconsider their decision to junk the murder charges filed against the police officers responsible for Manny’s death. In fact, the police are moving quietly to cover up any incriminating evidence that would indict their men,” Asuncion said during the press briefing.
The Department of Justice (DOJ) has dismissed the criminal charges filed against the 17 police officers who are involved in the death of Manny. The DOJ said there was no probable cause for the indictment of murder.
“From the war on drugs to the war on terror, violence perpetrated by police and military officers have been funded by US tax dollars and aid, on top of the large sum set aside in the government budget. It is a budget to kill, and American military aid to these killers-in-uniform must be stopped. Immediately,” Asuncion said.
She added that these crucial funds should be set aside to help the poor and marginalized communities in the US and abroad, “and not be put open to abetting people’s deaths and breaking apart families and communities.”
“To build than to break is a worthy cause that the US legislation should consider,” Asuncion added.
Kendra Williams of the Communications Workers of America meanwhile expressed solidarity to the struggle of Filipino workers and support for the passage of the PHRA.
“Workers in the Philippines must be free to exercise their right to form and join unions without fear of death or retaliation by the government. We cannot stand by while the Philippines government continues to target and harass workers for organizing. Congress must pass legislation like the Philippine Human Rights Act and send a clear message that we cannot not be complicit in the oppression of the Filipino people,” Williams said.
Sherman meanwhile said that the Philippine Human Rights Act “can be one step to ensure militarism and fear will not succeed in oppressing the people of the Philippines.”
“The United States has a responsibility to see the end of human rights violations during this time of armed conflict,” Sherman said.
Asuncion said that they hope that their story will “shed light to countless others that have been muzzled forcibly by Philippine state agents until this day.”