“Help us persuade U.S. policymakers to investigate the link between U.S. military aid and human rights violations in the Philippines,” Bishop Reuel Marigza, vice chairperson of the National Council of Churches in the Philippines (NCCP), said at an ecumenical conference on Saturday (March 24) in Washington, D.C.
The delegation also met earlier in the week with the U.S. Senate, House and State Department and submitted a report on the human rights conditions in the Philippines, and asked them to put human rights conditionalities on U.S. military aid to the Aquino administration.
In the meeting with the State Department, the Philippine delegation were told the U.S. has already placed $3 million worth of U.S. aid under an encumbrance, which means that amount will be released only if the Philippines fulfills its promise to improve its human rights record.
Marigza, however, said $3 million is paltry, compared to the total amount of U.S. military aid to the Philippines.
On March 1, the Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) announced that the U.S. has granted $144.66 million military assistance to the Philippines for this year, up by $21.38 million or 17.3 percent from last year.
Marigza, who is also general secretary of the United Church of Christ in the Philippines (UCCP), and two other human rights advocates presented their report on the Philippine human rights situation during a panel at the Ecumenical Advocacy Days (EAD).
EAD is an annual conference of faith-based groups in the United States aimed at coming up with a list of U.S. domestic and international policy issues that they will lobby for in the U.S. Congress.
With Marigza in the delegation are Bishop Felixberto Calang of the Iglesia Filipina Independiente (or the Philippine Independent Church), and Angelina Bisuna Ipong, secretary general of the Society of Ex-Detainees Against Detention and Arrest (SELDA), who is considered as the “oldest female political prisoner” in the Philippines until her release in 2011 after six years in jail.
The Philippine delegation’s call to hold U.S. military aid to the Philippines is based on the findings five years ago of Philip Alston, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial, Summary or Arbitrary Executions.
In his report, Alston said extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearances, abductions and torture were perpetrated by state security forces and paramilitary groups trained by the Armed Forces of the Philippines.
“The U.S., by supplying hundreds of millions of US dollars in military aid, materials, advise, and personnel to the Philippine military, is contributing to this culture of impunity,” Marigza said.
There have been 67 extrajudicial killings, nine disappearances, 55 cases of torture and 78 political arrests in the first one-and-a-half years in power of President Aquino, according to a 2011 report prepared by the human rights group Karapatan.
The Philippine UPR Watch is an ecumenical network of Philippine human rights organizations and advocates that are committed to submit a Universal Periodic Review reports to the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva, Switzerland.
The U.S. tour of Marigza, Calang and Ipong is sponsored by the Asia Pacific Forum (APF) of U.S. and Canadian churches with Asia and Pacific related programs and concerns. APF is a geographic forum related to the international humanitarian and development agency Church World Service.
The delegation will proceed to Canada to convince Canadian lawmakers to support the Philippine UPR Watch’s position at the next UN HRC Session that the Philippine government live up to its human rights commitments.
This trip to the U.S. and Canada is a follow-up to the 2007 International Human Rights Conference on the Philippines held in Washington, Dc.
That year, a delegation of Filipino church leaders, lawyers and human rights advocates attended the EAD and brought to the U.S. religious community’s attention the growing cases of unsolved extrajudicial killings under the Arroyo government.
The 2007 delegation also convened an international conference on human rights in the Philippines in Washington, D.C.. They presented their report before a U.S. Senate subcommittee hearing conducted by Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-California).
Senator Boxer called on the U.S. government to withdraw economic aid to the government of then-President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo unless it institutes reforms to curb human rights abuses in the Philippines.
The Boxer hearing concluded that the Philippine military, aided by U.S. military aid and resources, is largely responsible for the human rights violations in the Philippines.