[Sign On Letter] No Arm Sales to Philippine President Duterte
Letter Convened by ICHRP-US and EANP
Dear Members of the United States Congress,
We want to express our concern about the proposed Foreign Military Sales (FMS) of attack helicopters and associated heavy arms to the Philippines that now only Congress can stop. Time is of the essence as without Congressional action to stop these proposed sales by May 29, the arms deal could result in violent and devastating impact on Filipinos.
Published in detail April 30 by Defense Security Cooperation Agency, the following is a brief summary of the two possible deals, both of which mention the possibility of offsets, which means that US taxpayers could end up shouldering some of the cost:
1) From Boeing and Lockheed Martin, the offer includes attack helicopters, a long list of armaments, including rockets and air-to-ground and air-to-air missiles -- a total offer of $1.5B to upgrade anti-insurgency capabilities against insurgent forces in the Philippines that do not even have any aircraft.
2) From Bell Helicopter and General Electric, the offer includes attack helicopters and associated arms including missiles, laser guidance missile systems, and semi-armor piercing high explosive Incendiary rounds – a total offer of $450M.
The Philippines under President Rodrigo Duterte, has a history of human rights violations including a brutal war on drugs that has claimed tens of thousands of lives, a crackdown on the media and freedom of speech, and numerous politically motivated arrests and extrajudicial killings. Since the onset of Covid-19, human rights of Filipinos have further deteriorated. UN High Commissioner Michelle Bachelet, along with organizations such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, has raised serious questions about Duterte's “highly militarized response” to the current public health crisis. The Philippines ranks at the top of countries with quarantine-related arrests, which have reached over 30,000 to date. While the Philippine police continue to commit abuses against civilians, the shutdown on May 5th of the largest media broadcasting company (ABS-CBN) may foreshadow re-implementation of a nation-wide martial law. It is noteworthy to recall that the last time such a drastic measure was taken to censor the media was during martial law under the dictatorship of Ferdinand Marcos in the 1970s-80s.
The insurgent New People’s Army (NPA) which remains active after 50 years is maintaining its influence in limited areas of the country but is also engaging, off and on, in a peace process with the government. However, on April 27, 2020, Duterte turned down any possibility of pursuing peace talks over disputes about where the talks should take place, and at the same time threatened to declare martial law. Under the “Whole-of Nation” strategy initiated under Executive Order #70 (2018), Duterte has declared an all-out war against the NPA. This includes “red-tagging” a highly arbitrary tactic whereby members of the military publicly post lists of those deemed as dissenters. Human rights activists, community leaders, legal rights defenders, journalists, religious and tribal leaders, are accused of being members of the NPA. Some have been harassed, threatened, arbitrarily detained and even killed by security forces and government-backed paramilitaries (Human Rights Watch 2019 Report). Among the victims is journalist Brandon Lee, a US citizen who was reporting on human rights abuses targeting environmental activists and was shot and critically injured. Joint police and military operations have resulted in mass killings of farmers and human rights defenders on the island of Negros, and ongoing intimidation, harassment, and killings of indigenous leaders and communities throughout the country.
The indiscriminate use of attack helicopters firing on rural villages has been documented by the KARAPATAN, a Philippine human rights group. In one of the attacks in June 2019, a farmer was killed and 3 people were injured, 14 houses destroyed, and 1000 residents were forcibly evacuated. Most of these attacks have been on indigenous Lumad villages in Mindanao, but two have been reported in Southern Luzon. Also, mass bombing, including bombardment with attack helicopters, resulted in the death of civilians and displacement of 400,000 residents of Marawi City in 2017. Fatalities included members of the armed forces during instances of “friendly-fire”. Civilians have questioned the necessity of the extent of the damage.
The Philippine government is struggling financially to respond to the needs of Filipinos resulting from the Covid-19 crisis, and Duterte has stated that the country may even need to start selling government assets. What could help the Filipinos right now is aid for their under resourced healthcare system and for programs to assist poor people to survive during the current lock down, not an arms sale.
We plead with you to use your voice against the gross human rights violations in the Philippines and put forth a resolution to stop arms sales to the Duterte administration until the government takes the effective steps to end human rights abuses.
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