US and Philippine soldiers engage on a mission as part of Balikatan 23 | Photo by Spc. Brennick Stevens/US Army via Wikimedia Commons
It is highly unusual for the office of President Joe Biden in the White House to speak out directly and offer condolences to a victim of human rights violations in the Philippines, with whom it is strengthening military cooperation by occupying nine Philippine military bases.
The recent gruesome murder of Alex Dolorosa, a young, dedicated, and committed Filipino labor rights worker, was brutally murdered in Bacolod, Negros Occidental. It is one of many murders of human rights workers that have shocked the international community. Alex was a committed human rights worker, one of the young leaders that this country needs to challenge the evil exploitation and oppression of workers as guaranteed by the Constitution.
Many international and Philippine human rights organizations condemn the brutal murder of Alex Dolorosa and hundreds of others that have happened in recent years. The United States spokesperson at the office of President Joe Biden at the White House issued a message, “We extend our condolences to Dolorosa’s family and friends, as well as the greater international labor union and LGBTQI+ communities who loved him.” This followed an official visit by President Ferdinand R. Marcos Jr. The Philippines, once known as a truly Christian country for its gentle, kind-hearted, and welcoming people, has become known in recent years as a killing field for extrajudicial murders. Once a beacon of hope for the rule of law in a democratic society, it is now a country that has one of the worst records of human rights violations in Asia because of a small group of killers operating with impunity.
Critics are threatened and punished with death by the powerful, who heap shame and condemnation on themselves by the international community. Most Filipinos are too scared to protest. Through manipulation of social media, it is a nation ruled by dynastic families that hold the economy in its iron grip.
The evidence of alleged corrupt government deals, well-documented, frequently emerge, like the purchase of laptops for the Department of Education that were never paid for and sold online to the purchase of over-priced vaccines for the nation struck down by Covid-19.
The Philippine National Police (PNP) has already stated that it has shot dead as many as 7,000 citizens in “lawful” shoot-outs with suspected drug users and pushers in the ongoing war against drugs. They say they were ordered to do so. However, according to civil society organizations and rights campaigners, the secret, unofficial death squads have killed as many as 30,000 victims. With this record and President Joseph Biden welcoming President Ferdinand Marcos to the White House, the United States has to show concern and support for the victims of the bloody trail of innocent blood across the Philippines and to appease the local and US critics of rights abuses that will not be silenced.
The central issue is how can the United States get into bed with the Philippine government and military while allegations abound that some of the members of the Armed Forces of the Philippines and Philippine National Police or their hit squads are slaughtering Philippine rights workers, journalists, critics and defenders of justice and human dignity?
President Ferdinand Marcos, his cabinet, and the dynasties that support him are alert to the severe downside and negative impact on the world stage, the economy, and relations with the US, of the shoot-to-kill policy of his predecessor, branding critics as terrorists and criminals. That legacy faces an ICC investigation from which the present administration would be wise to distance itself.
They are smart enough to know that the United States and the administration of President Biden can’t afford to be seen as coddling a regime that appears to allow such atrocities. Can the Philippines walk proudly on the international stage with such a dark cloud of the past overshadowing it?
The substantial military deployment by the United States in the Philippines to counter China’s possible invasion of Taiwan has a positive side effect. Besides the obvious dangers of making the Philippines a target and a US brothel spawning abandoned Filipino- American children in their wake, positive outcomes are possible.
The US engagement, military investment, and political encouragement give some hope for a change of course by the Philippine government. If Philippine officials of conscience see the benefits of governing a civilized nation with dignity by scaling down the hyped-up anti-communist rhetoric, ending human rights abuses, banishing the death squads, freeing political prisoners, ending the killings and arbitrary arrests, and giving human rights workers the protection as mandated by the Constitution, the benefits to them and the nation will be enormous.
The government and the president will have greater respect and prestige in the international community and a substantial economic boost. The EU will drop its planned cancellation of the tax waiver it gives the Philippines.
In return for respect for human rights and not going back on the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) at this time, there will be a massive increase in US spending on the Philippine military and US aid. If the Philippine human rights abuses decrease, impunity ends. Political prisoners are freed, and the rule of law and accountability is implemented.
In a US election year that is 2024, President Joseph Biden cannot be shamed, embarrassed, and criticized by his domestic political opponents for apparently condoning or consenting to gross human rights abuses in the Philippines, a close US ally in Asia.
The US military and navy would have justified its build-up in the nine military and naval bases so far if it had taken a more robust stance in support of the Philippine Coast Guard, which is being bullied and bruised by the Chinese ships that are trying to maintain the false claim to the coastal territorial waters of the West Philippine Sea.
If and when regional stability is established, the oil and gas reserve beneath those waters is the bonanza that awaits the future Philippine population (and Western and Philippine oil and gas companies).
That will happen when the United States has a strong naval deterrence force patrolling with the Philippine Coast Guard in the West Philippine Sea and when the United States and the Philippine military complete its full deployment of retaliatory missile sites in the nine RP/US bases (perhaps more).
It plans to create a robust missile perimeter as a deterrence to counter the threatened invasion by China, which claims all of Taiwan, although it has never ruled the island that was then called Formosa.
Philippine cooperation is vital for the United States alliance in Southeast Asia to protect Taiwan, but it must earn that by helping protect the Philippines.