Crossing the Bridge

Congressional review

However, the congressional review of the Philippine-U.S. security cooperation, military aid and the human rights issue will go through the rigors of legislative mill to process the reactions and positions of key policy makers from the U.S. State Department, the Pentagon and various intelligence agencies, the U.S. Pacific Command, the U.S. Embassy and the USAID in Manila and other agencies dealing with the Philippines. To push the agenda, it will become necessary for the Philippine ecumenical delegation to sustain vigorous lobbying in collaboration with other sympathetic ecumenical bodies, human rights, advocacy and even academic groups in the U.S. This is expected since the Arroyo government will tap its influential lobby groups in the U.S. Congress to question the credibility and credentials of the Philippine delegation and to market the line that giving military support to Arroyo in the context of counter-terrorism and counter-insurgency is the best thing that ever happened to the Manila-Washington special ties.

Already, the Pentagon, through the commander of its anti-drug task force in Southeast Asia, Rear Admiral Paul Zukunft, has begun a publicity blitz in support of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) – the alleged perpetrator of rights violations – with allegations that the New People’s Army (NPA) maintains shabu laboratories in its areas of operation. Zukunft’s story is an oblique support to the AFP’s fabricated lies that the NPA is to blame for the political killings as part of an “internal purge” – a theory which however has been debunked by both the Melo Commission and the UN Special Rapporteur, Philip Alston.

There is a dynamics of policy making in Washington, D.C. with regard to the Philippine government not necessarily between the Democrats and Republicans but between those who believe in multilateralism and the advocates of unilateralism. In connection with U.S. foreign policy and global security strategy, those who push for a revival of multilateralism, i.e., using diplomacy and cooperation with international institutions such as the United Nations, can be found in some liberal members of Congress and the state department, which administers its diplomatic mission in the Philippines. Officially though, the state department has backed Arroyo’s hardline anti-communist stance by including the CPP-NPA in its “foreign terrorist organizations” (FTO) list.

On the other hand, the advocates of unilateralism, i.e. the “realists” and “neo-conservatives,” remain in the upperhand and are in control of the Bush government including the Pentagon, and they include many Republicans in Congress and conservative think tanks that are key players in the wars in Afghanistan, Iraq and the global war against terrorism. From this clique of war hawks and neo-conservatives come those who promote Bush’s current close security cooperation with the Arroyo government. Of course, one can argue that multilateralism and unilateralism are two sides of the same coin: The U.S. government adheres to multilateralism but reserves its right to use unilateralism as a way of maintaining an independent foreign policy (Read: aggressive global hegemony).

Inconsistent rights policy

In fact, the U.S. government has been criticized for its inconsistent human rights policy and for using it as part of its proverbial “carrots and stick” strategy chiefly to gain concessions from governments. For instance, it has accused of China of having a poor human rights record as a means of pressuring the Beijing government to yield to major economic concessions demanded by Washington. Yet, it supports tyrannical governments and other states notorious for committing atrocities against their own nationals – reminiscent of its previous support to various dictatorships from the 1950s to 1980s including the military regimes of Marcos, Park Chung-Hee of South Korea, General Soeharto of Indonesia, Augusto Pinochet of Chile, and the Shah of Iran.

Today’s case in point is of course the Arroyo government. The state department may report about the knotty human rights performance of Mrs. Arroyo but Washington continues to extend huge amounts of military aid and pours more and more of its intervention forces in the Philippines. It has opposed peace talks with the communists and is extending military aid to the AFP – even if this results in the gross and systematic violations of human rights – with the objective of forcing the “enemies of the state” to surrender.

Still, unlike in the aftermath of 9/11, the upsurge of the anti-war movement in the U.S. and the Philippine progressive church’s renewed linkages with human rights, ecumenical, academic and immigrant groups in America are new grounds which the struggle for the defense of human rights in the Philippines can tap to help bring into fruition efforts to render justice to the victims of human rights violations in the country. The complaints with the UNHRC will likely open more quasi-legal investigations and the possible non-renewal of the Philippine government’s membership in the Council when it faces a universal periodic review (UPR) in May this year. The struggle for human rights will continue in the Philippines but its solidarity support appears to be boundless and is gaining sympathies not only in America but throughout the world as well. (

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