[News] It’s Time to End US Military Aid to the Philippines

Anti-Imperialist News news at freedomarchives.org
Wed Apr 10 12:25:41 EDT 2019


  It’s Time to End US Military Aid to the Philippines

by Amee Chew <https://www.counterpunch.org/author/7hapatebathu/> - April 
10, 2019

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte’s bloody “War on Drugs” has now 
claimed over 
lives — almost all poor and indigent people, including children, 
summarily executed by police or vigilantes.

Over 140,000 
<https://theaseanpost.com/article/packed-prisons-philippines> pre-trial 
detainees are being held in overcrowded Philippine prisons, many on 
trumped up drug charges 
75 percent of the total prison population still awaits their day in 
court, let alone conviction. On top of this, assassinations of human 
rights lawyers, journalists, labor and peasant organizers, indigenous 
leaders, clergy, teachers, and activists are spiraling out of control.

Duterte has systematically silenced voices of political dissent, jailing 
Senator Leila DeLima, an early drug war critic; ousting Supreme Court 
Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno, who opposed the imposition of 
martial law in Mindanao; and now arresting Maria Ressa, internationally 
renowned journalist and executive editor of the indy outlet Rappler 

Meanwhile, less known to U.S. audiences, Duterte has dropped bombs on 
Philippine soil over 368,391 
<https://www.karapatan.org/2018-Karapatan-HR-Report> times — and some 
450,000 <https://www.karapatan.org/2018-Karapatan-HR-Report> civilians 
have been displaced by militarization. After scuttling peace talks with 
the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) 
<https://www.ndfp.org/>, Duterte has jailed internationally protected 
peace consultants. And in January, consultant Randy Malayao was murdered 
in cold blood by armed hit men.

Ever since the Philippines attained formal independence in 1946, the 
U.S. has maintained a military presence on its former colony, guiding 
and supporting “counter-insurgency” operations to put down constant 
rebellions against an oligarchic government. Today, the Philippine armed 
forces overwhelmingly direct violence not against outside invaders, but 
at poor and marginalized people within its borders. U.S. military aid is 
only making internal conflict worse.

*U.S. taxpayer funds are bankrolling the worsening human rights crisis 
in the Philippines.*

Duterte’s repressive regime is the largest 
recipient of U.S. military aid in Asia.

In 2016, the U.S. helped inaugurate Duterte’s drug war by giving $32 
to the Philippine police (supposedly for “training and services 
in “policing standards” and “rule of law,” besides equipment 
In July 2018, the United States announced an additional $26.5 million 
in U.S. tax dollars to beef up support for Philippine police, in the 
name of “counter-terrorism.”

In FY2018, the Defense Department provided roughly $100 million 
in military aid, including equipment, weapons, and aerial surveillance 
systems, to the Philippine military and police, though Operation Pacific 
Eagle — a so-called “overseas contingency operation” that is exempt 
<https://fas.org/sgp/crs/natsec/R44519.pdf> from congressional limits on 
spending. The amount demanded for this program will increase to $108.2 
for FY2019 — even as the Defense Department has admitted 
it lost track of transactions for 76 of 77 arms sales conducted under 
bilateral agreements with the Philippines.

In 2018, on top of the above, the U.S. sold the Philippine police 
and military 
over $63 million worth of arms. It also donated 2,253 machine guns 
over 5 million 
rounds of ammunition, surveillance equipment, and other weapons. 
Military aid totaled at least $193.5 million last year, /not/including 
arms sales, and donated equipment of unreported worth. At least $145.6 
million is already pledged for 2019.

In January, Trump authorized $1.5 billion for the Asian Pacific region, 
including the Philippines, from 2019 to 2023. Although this 
appropriation includes a stipulation 
that counter-narcotics funds will /not/ go to the Philippines (“except 
for drug demand reduction,” a potential loophole), it’s too little, too 
late. The set-aside has no restrictions on weapons funding for the 
Philippine military. And separately, the State Department already plans 
to deliver $5.3 million 
<https://www.state.gov/documents/organization/290302.pdf> this year to 
the Philippine police for anti-narcotics activities. Worse, rampant 
corruption together with a total lack of transparency means it’s hard to 
ensure where military aid could actually end up.

*U.S. military equipment forms the backbone of Duterte’s “military 
modernization” program.*

Although the above aid is tiny compared to the U.S.’s own bloated 
military budget, this tremendous transfer of weapons and surveillance 
technology is significant in propping up the Philippine armed forces’ 

Duterte has embarked on an ambitious program to “modernize” the 
Philippine military, massively increasing funding and pouring more money 
towards this than spent in the last 15 years 
(Meanwhile, he’s doubled 
the salaries of military and police.) He could not do so without U.S. 
aid and arms.

For its part, the U.S. is particularly interested in expanding 
aerial “intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance” missions over 
Mindanao, the largest island in the Southern Philippines, rich in 
untapped mineral resources. Without U.S. aid, the Philippine military 
would lack the airplanes and technology to perform this surveillance.

What’s more, this year’s Operation Pacific Eagle budget sets aside an 
extra $3.5 million 
for U.S. military efforts to collect and analyze “local media in native 
languages” — underscoring that the U.S. is striving for an upper hand in 
directing Philippine military operations. And in winning an information 
war over public opinion.

In recent years, the U.S. has had up to 5,000 
troops deployed in the Philippines at any one time. Officially, U.S. 
troops are limited to “joint exercises” and war games. But questions 
have been raised over possible U.S. personnel 
<https://www.manilatimes.net/us-soldier-among-dead/159838/> involvement 
in secretive missions, resulting in killings of civilians and human 
rights abuses.

In the case of the 2015 Mamasapano 
supposedly under the jurisdiction of Philippine police and military 
only, hearings later uncovered 
U.S. guidance and surveillance support, despite U.S. denials 
Meanwhile, U.S. troops who themselves commit human rights abuses, 
murder, or sexual assault 
are insulated from being held accountable by the U.S.-Philippines 
Visiting Forces Agreement.

*What are the consequences of the bonanza of military aid for Duterte? *

The bottom line is, the U.S. government is complicit in — and actively 
supporting — the deepening human rights crisis in the Philippines.

Police are 
linked <https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-37172002> to the killings 
carried out by unidentified vigilantes in the War on Drugs, and their 
Besides tagging the unarmed people they have murdered as “fighting 
back,” police have planted 
evidence; sexually 
and <https://ph.theasianparent.com/pregnant-woman-raped-by-police> 
in exchange 
for release or dropping drug charges; and detained people without 
charges and tortured them to extract bribes, including through the use 
of secret 
holding cells.

In addition to the drug war, repression is unfolding on other fronts, as 
well. Twelve journalists 
killed in the first two years under Duterte — the highest number of 
murdered journalists in the first two years in office of any Philippine 
president. At least 34 lawyers 
have been assassinated, including Benjamin Ramos of the National Union 
of People’s Lawyers, an attorney representing the Sagay 9 — peasants, 
including women and minors, massacred for trying to claim land they were 
legally awarded.

At least 48 
environmental campaigners were murdered in 2017 alone, making the 
Philippines the second most dangerous country for environmentalists, 
after Brazil. By 2018, 14 massacres 
<https://www.karapatan.org/2018-Karapatan-HR-Report>, killings mostly of 
farmers who were fighting for land reform, were perpetrated by police, 
military, or paramilitaries.

Labor leaders are being slaughtered using tactics similar to those in 
the drug war. Edilberto Miralles, president of R&E Taxi Transport union, 
was shot in broad daylight 
in front of the National Labor Relations Commission in 2016. Linus 
Cubol, chair of Kilusang Mayo Uno in Caraga, was murdered 
in November by vigilantes riding in tandem. Police brutally beat 
peacefully picketing NutriAsia workers on strike and their supporters, 
then they charged the picketers with assault, planted weapons 
and attempted to suppress journalists’ coverage of the dispersal.

Under Duterte, over 134 
human rights defenders have been killed. In just one case, in 2017, 
Elisa Badayos and Eleuterio Moises were murdered 
while serving on a fact-finding team investigating human rights 
violations due to militarization in Negros Oriental.

Since 2017, Duterte has imposed martial law on Mindanao. Increasing 
militarization is resulting in rampant abuses against indigenous and 
Moro people. Aerial “surveillance” missions already make up the bulk of 
U.S. aid to the Philippine military. Most likely in direct relation, 
bombings in Mindanao have escalated — particularly over indigenous 
lands, causing mass evacuations. Simultaneously, reminiscent of 
U.S.-sponsored tactics in Latin America resulting in indigenous 
genocide, the Philippine military, together with paramilitary groups 
it arms 
and guides 
are terrorizing indigenous communities. The military has recruited and 
even forced indigenous people to become paramilitaries as a means of 

Indigenous groups’ resistance is at the forefront of the struggle 
against climate change, both in the Philippines and globally. Now, their 
lands, such as those in Mindanao’s Pantaron Range, are some of the few 
remaining to be opened up to extractive logging and mining by 
multinational corporations. The militarization of indigenous lands, 
purportedly in the name of counterinsurgency, seeks to quell this 
organized community opposition 
to corporate land-grabbing and environmental degradation.

Education is a center 
of community 
— and now 
as well.

The military and paramilitaries are targeting indigenous community 
— turning their grounds into military encampments, shooting teachers and 
students, bombing the schools – to force their closure. Indigenous 
children and their teachers are the victims of this campaign.

In September 2017, Obello Bay-ao, a student at Salugpongan’s school in 
Dulyan, Talaingod, was killed 
by Alamara paramilitaries while walking home from farming. He was shot 
24 times in the back. In the same community, another 15-year-old student 
was gunned down 
by Alamara in 2016, while a 14-year-old girl reported being gang raped 
by soldiers in 2015.

In May 2018, Beverly Geronimo, a teacher of indigenous children, was 
in Trento, Agusan del Sur while buying school supplies. In November 
2018, four teachers, Tema Namatidong, Julius Torregosa, Ariel Barluado, 
and Giovanni Solomon, were abducted 
by the military in Lanao del Sur.

The list <https://www.karapatan.org/2018-Karapatan-HR-Report> of 
continues. In June 2018, 72 
schools were unable to hold classes because of military harassment. Over 
indigenous students could not attend school because of nearby military 

The schools under attack are part of a movement 
led by indigenous groups, together with NGOs and church partners, to 
provide relevant education for their youth, a service largely neglected 
by the government. Ninety percent 
of indigenous children lack access to formal education. In the 2000s, 
indigenous communities established 
in conjunction 
with their struggles for self-determination, in hopes that education 
would help protect them from land-grabbing. The military has sought to 
brand community schools as “training camps” for communist insurgents, 
recently launching Facebook campaigns towards this purpose.

U.S. military aid is intensifying the conflict in Mindanao, exacerbating 
its impact on civilians. U.S. investment in aerial surveillance will 
escalate an air war that has a brutal and indiscriminate effect on 
people as well as the environment. The integration of “intelligence” 
activity in counter-terrorism is dangerous. It will likely worsen 
repression against anyone organizing for indigenous, labor, and human 
rights — feeding a growing bloodbath as paramilitaries are employed to 
undermine these local struggles, while providing cover for government 
troops to escape accountability.

Today’s violence is inseparable from the U.S.’s imperial shadow. The 
drug war is a purge of humans deemed worthless in a society where social 
safety nets were never allowed to be developed, where the failure of 
neoliberal economic reforms now plays into the hands of despotism, and 
where U.S.-backed elites regularly employ state-paid goons to undermine 

Placed in historical context, Mindanao, and those lands of indigenous 
communities under attack, were some of the last outposts resisting 
Spanish and U.S. rule. The islands — dubbed by Trump 
“a prime piece of real estate from a military standpoint” — have long 
served as a stepping stone towards U.S. aspirations of dominance in the 
Asia-Pacific. U.S. military aid continues a long process of 
“pacification” — and colonial conquest, now unfolding in neocolonial forms.

*People’s movements in the Philippines are calling for international 
solidarity, to end the U.S.-backed militarization of their communities. *

They demand also peace with justice — a peace process that adopts 
structural reforms like those outlined in CASER 
a program the NDFP sought to reach agreement on implementing via peace 
talks, that includes land reform, rescinding neoliberal economic 
policies, and respecting indigenous land and self-determination.

In 2016, Sandugo <http://sandugo.org/>, a historic alliance of 
indigenous and Moro groups from across the Philippines, formed, uniting 
for self-determination and a just peace. Three thousand delegates met in 
Manila, and protesters converged on the U.S. embassy 
under a banner calling for an end to U.S. intervention and 
militarization. At the gates of the U.S. embassy, the Philippine police 
responded by beating people indiscriminately, and a police van ran over 
the crowd 
injuring dozens.

Three years later, the call to end U.S. military aid and lift martial 
law continues.

In terms of the drug war, one of the first groups to come out in vocal 
opposition was Kadamay <https://www.facebook.com/kadamaynational/>, a 
mass-based organization of urban poor people. Instead of killings, 
Kadamay has called for addressing poverty and the root causes of the 
drug problem — in short, for drug addiction to be treated as a health, 
not criminal, issue. More recently, an organization of family members of 
those killed in the drug war has formed, Rise Up For Life and Rights 

*When the Philippine Senate tried to **restrict funding* 
Duterte’s drug war in late 2017, the U.S. **stepped in* 
provide funds that filled the shortfall.*

To evade accountability, Duterte has shifted 
drug war operations from under the Philippine National Police (PNP) to 
the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency and back 
to the PNP’s general operation funds. Recently, he eliminated 
keeping a separate budget item for the drug war — obscuring how much 
money is being expended on it. The Philippine Congress has not been able 
to provide effective oversight.

The continuing drug war killings and rampant human rights abuses only 
underscore that there is no way to ensure U.S. military aid to the 
Duterte regime does /not /enable human rights violations. For its part, 
U.S. military spending is not only overblown, but also often 
untraceable, secretive, and unaccountable. From Central America to 
Palestine to the Philippines, U.S. military aid has a sordid legacy of 
fueling atrocities.

*A growing movement is calling on Congress to cut military aid, arms 
gifts, and arm sales to the Philippines — **as well as to end support 
for the Duterte regime.*

The Leahy Law, which stipulates no funding shall be furnished to foreign 
security forces if the U.S. knows they have committed “a gross violation 
of human rights,” needs upheld with regard to the Philippines. (For more 
information on this campaign, please visit: ichrpus.org. 

In 2007 
due to movement pressure, Congress held a hearing on rising 
extrajudicial killings in the Philippines under Gloria Macapagal 
Arroyo’s regime. Legislation was passed placing restrictions on military 
aid. The next year, killings decreased significantly.

Our time to act is now.

/*Amee Chew* has a Ph.D. in American Studies & Ethnicity, and is a 
Mellon-ACLS Public Fellow./

/A version of this article first appeared on Foreign Policy in Focus 

Freedom Archives 522 Valencia Street San Francisco, CA 94110 415 
863.9977 https://freedomarchives.org/
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