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The Honorable ________________
Washington, D.C. 20510
Dear Senator (or Representative) _______________,
We of the Ecumenical Advocacy Network on the Philippines (EANP) are concerned about the State Department Foreign Military Financing (FMF) aid to the Philippines for fiscal year 2014 and FY 2015. On January 17, 2014 the President signed the first appropriations bill since FY2008 that does not have human rights restrictions on FMF for the Philippines specified in the appropriations law. For FY 2014 restrictions are not in the bill language but instead in the conference committee report, stating that the Appropriations Committees will decide on how much to release to the Philippine army after getting a report from the State Department. We are asking for messages from our Senators to Sen. Leahy, Chair of the State Department Foreign Operations Subcommittee, supporting continued human conditions on FMF funding for the Philippines.
EANP has been active since 2007 in advocating for human rights restrictions on FMF and since human rights conditions were put in place FY2008 the Government of the Philippines (GPH) has expressed concern about being designated as a human rights violator, and although there has been some decrease in the rate of killings and the government has setup a high level interagency committee to investigate the problem, progress has not been sufficient for the State Department to release all of the appropriated FMF in any year since 2008. According to the US State Department 2013 Human Rights Report few of the perpetrators have been arrested and there have been no convictions of high-ranking police or military officials and a culture of impunity persists.
The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and the paramilitary units under their control continue to be involved in extrajudicial killings (EJK), enforced disappearances, and illegal arrests. In the last 12 months killings have increased. According to KARAPATAN, a Philippine human rights NGO, in the first three months of this year 19 EJKs have been reported, and all can reasonably be attributed to the AFP and Philippine National Police. Recently, Global Witness ranked the country as the 3rd most dangerous for environment and land defenders worldwide and the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) ranked the Philippines as the 3rd most deadly for journalists.
The human rights abuses by security forces can generally be linked to the unresolved 45-year insurgency by the Communist Party of the Philippines and the New People’s Army (CPP-NPA). The victims are typically worker, peasant and environmental activists who have been accused of being communists and or members of the NPA and have failed to stop their activism in the face of the threats. A resolution of the conflict could go a long way to improve the human rights situation. The National Council of Churches of the Philippines (NCCP) has called for “...principled negotiations to thresh out the issues, unearth and address the root causes of the conflict. The peace negotiation is a way to just and lasting peace.” A framework for peace talks hosted by Norway is well established, however, in 2013 peace talks broke down.
The recent spate of killings and highly publicized arrests of CPP peace consultants (Benito and Wilma Austria Tiamzon and several others) signals the GPH is essentially closing the door on the peace process and is preferring a military solution to ending the conflict. We think the US could play a role in urging the GPH to re engage in the peace process. Another impediment to peace is the State Department listing of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP)-National Democratic Front as a Foreign Terrorist Organization. The listing was a very political act negotiated by the former president of the Philippines.
With the “Pivot to Asia” the US military will be soon be sending military personnel to AFP bases in the Philippines. Negotiations with the GPH are ongoing on the “Agreement on Enhanced Defense Cooperation (AEDC)” and there has been speculation that it may be ready by the time President Obama arrives in Manila in late April. We think it is important that members of Congress be aware of the situation in the Philippines with respect to human rights and take action where appropriate.
We request that you communicate to Senator Leahy’s staff of the State Department Foreign Operations Subcommittee expressing your concern that the subcommittee: 1) Carefully consider the State Department report on the human rights performance of the Philippine army and not release FMF funds for the army unless there is clear evidence of a substantial decrease in killings, vigorous prosecution of perpetrators and an end to impunity; and 2) To return human rights conditions to FMF in the bill for 2015
We also request that you communicate with Secretary of State John Kerry your concern about the breakdown in the peace process to end the ongoing insurgency, and that the CPP-NPA be removed from the list of Foreign Terrorist Organizations as a signal that the US would like to see progress on peace negotiations.