Human rights groups both here and abroad noted the glaring absence of an explicit declaration to uphold human rights in the next six years in President Ferdinand Marcos Jr.’s recent State of the Nation Address before Congress.
That may have been inadvertent, given its main focus on economic rebound after a bruising battle with the COVID-19 pandemic for more than two years now.
But it’s an omission that could cost the Philippines valuable security assistance from the United States.
We’re referring to the recent approval by the US House of Representatives of amendments to a law that would block American security assistance to the Philippine National Police unless certain measures were taken to investigate human rights abuses by law enforcers and punish those responsible.
According to Rep. Susan Wild of Pennsylvania, five of her amendments to the National Defense Authorization Act for 2023 include provisions that, first, would “expose human rights violations” committed by the Philippine military, police and paramilitary forces, and, second, “condition assistance to the Philippine National Police on respect for fundamental human rights.”
Under the amendments, there would be no funds authorized “to be appropriated or otherwise made available” as aid to the PNP until the Secretary of State certifies to the US Congress that the Philippine government has made significant improvements in addressing human rights issues raised against its national police force.
The Democratic lawmaker cited figures from human rights groups that as many as 30,000 extrajudicial killings have taken place in the Philippines in the course of the brutal war on drugs by the previous Duterte administration, which insisted that only a little more than 6,000 were killed in its anti-narcotics drive in the last six years.
The Democratic lawmaker also decried the Red-tagging and arrests of labor organizers and opposition figures: “Our constituents’ tax dollars should not be used to supply weapons, training, or any other assistance to state security forces that violently target political opponents,” she said.
“If we in the United States are going to say that we stand for human rights around the world, then we need to stand for human rights around the world, not just when it’s politically convenient and not just when it’s easy,” she added.
Rep. Wild’s pronouncement is certain to raise some hackles in the Philippine government about undue interference in our internal affairs.
But she raises a valid point since our Constitution is very clear that the government should uphold fundamental freedoms and human rights, including freedom of speech, of expression and of the press, among others.
The question now is: Will the new administration take this as an unacceptable condition that infringes on national sovereignty, or as a timely reminder that we do, in fact, have an obligation to adhere to universal human rights standards?