Non-profit organization Human Rights Watch (HRW) today urged the United States not to sell weapons to the Philippines, saying that it has failed to put a stop to the violations committed by its military.
In a statement, HRW alleged that the Philippine military has committed human rights violations in its decades-long battles against the communist group New People’s Army and Muslim separatist rebels. It accused Filipino soldiers of failing to protect and even abusing civilians during armed conflicts and committing extrajudicial killings.
The HRW’s statement comes a few weeks after the U.S. State Department announced that it is possibly selling two kinds of attack helicopters to the Philippine military.
“Approving contracts for attack helicopters would be sending a terrible message to the Philippine government that long-running military abuses without accountability have no consequences on the US-Philippines relationship,” said HRW’s Asia Advocacy Director John Sifton.
He added that the U.S. Congress should tell “the Philippine government that real reforms are needed to end military abuses before deals like this can be approved.”
Meanwhile, Bayan Muna Representative Carlos Zarate lambasted President Rodrigo Duterte’s government for planning to buy military weapons while the country is suffering from the COVID-19 pandemic. Duterte has said that his administration is quickly running out of funds to deal with the coronavirus, but Zarate said he still wanted to buy “war and killing machines like attack helicopters.”
Bayan Muna has been campaigning for mass testing for the coronavirus, but Malacañang Palace has said the Philippines does not have enough resources to do so.
LOOK: STATEMENT ON U.S. ARMS SALE TO THE PHILIPPINES pic.twitter.com/2X6gNPLFcN
— Philippine Embassy in the USA (@philippinesusa) May 21, 2020
Amid the growing criticism, the U.S. embassy in Manila has defended the possible sale of attack helicopters, saying in a statement released early this morning that the defense modernization program of the Philippines is “critical to national security and necessary to achieving a credible defense posture.”
“It is unfortunate that certain groups seek to take advantage of this issue to advance their own political agenda, even to the detriment of the long-standing alliance between the Philippines and the United States,” the embassy added.
Manila and Washington have been allies for centuries, but this partnership was tested in February when Duterte unilaterally terminated the Visiting Forces Agreement, a military pact that protects American servicemen from prosecution for crimes that they have committed on Philippine soil. Duterte canceled the agreement after the U.S. visa of his ally, Senator Ronald “Bato” dela Rosa, was declared invalid by the American embassy.
Duterte has long been known to be critical of Americans and keeps a friendlier relationship with the Chinese government, despite Beijing’s invasion of the disputed West Philippine Sea (WPS).
The United States has ramped up its patrol of the area and accused China of solidifying its grip in the WPS while the rest of Asia is distracted by the COVID-19 pandemic.