MANILA, Philippines — Its involvement in human rights abuses and the failure of the government to prosecute these violations have blocked the Philippine Army from receiving a share of the $40 million in military aid US Secretary of State John Kerry pledged, Human Rights Watch said Wednesday.
Kerry announced the aid — earmarked for maritime security assistance and counterterrorism training for police in Mindanao — on his arrival here for a two-day visit for bilateral discussions on the framework for the increased rotational presence of US forces in the country and US assistance to survivors of super typhoon Yolanda.
In a statement, HRW’s Asia advocacy director John Sifton noted that none of the aid “will go to the Philippine Army, a traditional recipient of US foreign military financing — and there’s a reason for that.”
“The US Congress, the Pentagon, and the State Department each agree that the Philippines Army is implicated in abuses, past and even present, and continues to enjoy impunity since the government has not established any significant record of prosecuting human rights violations,” he said. “This new military aid package reflects that consensus.”
According to Sifton, “The Obama administration agrees that the Philippine Army should not get any major assistance.”
He cited “pending draft legislation in the US Congress that would restrict all major assistance to the army.”
“Aside from that, there’s an existing hold on $3 million of annual financial military assistance to the Philippines as a result of the government’s failure to address these abuses,” he added.
On Tuesday, Sifton also issued a statement on Kerry’s visit, saying it is intended “to showcase a strong US-Philippines relationship, but that doesn’t mean the US government isn’t concerned by continuing human rights problems in the Philippines.”
He also noted that US law requires the State Department “to restrict certain forms of assistance to the Philippines military until the government takes action to investigate and prosecute extrajudicial executions.”
“No amount of diplomacy changes that underlying reality,” he stressed. “The law is set by the US Congress, not the Secretary of State.”
While acknowledging that Kerry “will be diplomatic,” Sifton nevertheless said, “serious concerns remain about the lack of action taken by the Aquino government on extrajudicial killings.”
“The US government knows what we know: that almost no serious prosecutions have taken place, and the numbers of killings is now in fact rising — more journalists have been killed this year than any other year of the Aquino presidency. Impunity remains the order of the day,” he said.