Philippine President Duterte’s military response to Covid-19 and “shoot-to-kill” order against violators of social distancing — condemned by human rights groups and the UN High Commissioner Michelle Bachelet — would seemingly make the United States question its regular military assistance to the Philippines.
On Thursday, however, the United States Defense Security Cooperation Agency announced State Department approval of two new foreign military sales to the Philippines.
The first sale, worth 450 million, includes six attack helicopters, six hellfire missiles, 26 Advanced Precision Kill Weapon System, machine guns, rocket launchers, and other technical equipment, citing the principal contractors as Bell Helicopter and General Electric Company. The second sale, worth 1.5 billion dollars, primarily contracted with Boeing and Lockheed Martin, includes another six attack helicopters but multiplies other weapons requests by the hundreds (i.e. 200 hellfire missiles and 300 Advanced Precision Kill Weapon System).
The arms sales would be headed to Duterte’s state forces who are becoming only more ruthless under Covid-19.
Since Duterte declared an “enhanced community quarantine,” 38,000 have been arrested for “violation of quarantine.” Luzon has seen a drastic increase in military troops deployed to the region mimicking Dutere’s previous counter-insurgecny programs in Negros and Visayas that resulted in numerous killings of activists.
A farmer Junie Dungog Piñar from Southern Philippines was shot by military men for violating the COVID19 lockdown three days after Duterte’s shoot-them-dead order. Another farmer, Noel Galvez from West Samar was tied like an animal and tortured before he was killed last April 18. Six volunteers with Tulong Anakpawis providing relief efforts were arrested and illegally detained in Norzagaray, Bulucan.
Just this week, Philippine police shot former army veteran Winston Ragos was shot dead in while suffering from PTSD. Jory Porquia was shot dead in front of his home after facing harassment from the Philippine National Police while working on relief project in Ilo Ilo.
Meanwhile, Duterte has further scuttled peace talks with the National Democratic Front of the Philippines, failing to free political prisoners and failing to adhere to genuine ceasefire whilst pushing for heightening military operations against the New People’s Army.
Duterte’s Covid response is de facto martial law — and the new U.S. arm deals will only fortify the Presidents arsenal.
ICHRP-US condemns the new arms deal in the strongest terms and demands accountability from the United States government in its foreign arm sales to the Philippines and. We call for widespread education to mobilize people against the deal. The United States Congress has 30 days to veto the deal before it passes.
International Coalition for Human Rights in the Philippines (ICHRP-US)
7 Points on Defense Secretary Lorenzana’s Attack on ICHRP and Response to U.S. Arms Sale
On May 13, in a press conference with President Duterte’s cabinet, Philippine Star Journalist Tina Mendez quoted a recent ICHRP-US statement that demanded accountability for newly approved U.S. arms sales to the Duterte regime, in which we noted an arms sale would be going “to state forces who are becoming only more ruthless under Covid-19.”
Philippine Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana responded to the ICHRP-US statement, saying,
“On the commentary on why we are going to purchase those helicopters — and that we should just channel the fund in those in need . . . . I agree with what these leftists are saying. But first you should end your armed struggle, so we will stop buying such arms. You’ve been waging your armed struggle for 50 years, and you’re just causing trouble, and you want us to stop importing arms, but you’ won’t stop fighting.”
While red-tagging ICHRP, accusing it of involvement of the armed struggle in the Philippines, Secretary Lorenzana also claimed the Philippines could not afford the 450 million or 1.5 billion arms sales. Lorenzana further argued the arms sale is in no way connected to the termination for the Visiting Forces Agreement.
With this development, we offer 7 points in response to Secretary Lorenzana’s claims:
- The International Coalition for Human Rights in the Philippines, of which ICHRP-US is a chapter, is a coalition of organizations and institutions from different regions of the globe who are deeply concerned about the human rights situation in the Philippines and are inspired by the efforts of people’s organizations in the country to struggle for the rights and a just peace.
- Lorenzana’s attacks on ICHRP and so called “leftists” evade government responsibility to hungry citizens. Lorenzana’s accusations are simple conjecture and fail to obfuscate the government’s paltry response to the needs of the people.
- If the Philippine government does not have the money for the proposed deal, it is better to forego the arms sale. The Philippine government can instead direct the funds towards Covid-19 relief. According to IBON, there are currently still 6 million Filipinos who have not received the government’s promised economic relief.
- The Philippine government does have money and resources, but the Duterte Administration prioritizes war spending and infrastructure building that profits rich bureaucrats and foreign corporations. Duterte’s 2020 budget saw increases in defense and infrastructure spending and a decrease in health, agriculture, and social welfare. Meanwhile, the administration has grown the trillions of dollars of debt owed to the Asian Development Bank, the World Bank, Japan, and China and the United States among others.
- The Armed Forces of the Philippines’ human rights’ record speaks for itself as to why it should not receive U.S. helicopters and heavy artillery. Karapatan has documented that “at least 456,103 civilians have been forcibly evacuated from their homes in the course of the Armed Forces of the Philippines’ (AFP) bombings and indiscriminate firing on communities. Victims have identified the AFP’s use of attack helicopters, jet fighters, howitzers, grenade launchers, and bombs, including white phosphorous bombs, in the said attacks.”
- In accordance with the framework of the previous agreements of the peace talks between the GRP and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines, until such time the roots of the armed conflict in the country are resolved– landlessness, joblessness, and extreme poverty afflicting the majority of Filipinos in the country– the armed conflict will continue.
- It is irrelevant whether or not this new arms sale is in direct response to the termination of the Visiting Forces Agreement. The issue here is the U.S. State Department’s approval of the arms sale indicates there are those within the U.S. government willing to sacrifice human rights for the sake of profit and military power in the Asia Pacific region. The need to campaign against the arms sale before it’s May 30th approval deadline is urgent.
Stop Arms Sales to Duterte!
Sign the petition and join the movement here: https://bit.ly/ICHRPUSsignOn.