“We are concerned that the extrajudicial killings could be a conscious and systematic part of the Philippine government’s counterinsurgency program and that financial assistance from our government is being used to support, directly or indirectly, those within the PNP and AFP who are responsible for the killings” – U.S. legislators.
BY BENJIE OLIVEROS
HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH
Vol. VII, No. 26, August 5-11, 2007
In a letter dated August 1 sent to Pres. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, U.S. House members expressed concern over the unabated extrajudicial killings and abductions, the involvement of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and the Philippine National Police (PNP), and the probability that U.S. military aid is being used for these purposes.
The letter read, “The AFP and PNP receive a significant amount of aid from the United States to assist in training and professionalizing the Philippine security forces to combat terrorist groups, and to upgrade military equipment and hardware. We are concerned that the extrajudicial killings could be a conscious and systematic part of the Philippine government’s counterinsurgency program and that financial assistance from our government is being used to support, directly or indirectly, those within the PNP and AFP who are responsible for the killings. The numerous reports that our and other congressional offices receive indicate the need for closer monitoring of this situation, particularly regarding the alleged use of U.S. assistance to implement the abductions and killings.”
The letter, which was a rare display of bipartisan unity signed by 49 members of the U.S. House of Representatives from both the Democratic and Republican parties, expressed their strong concern over the “ongoing human rights crisis in the Philippines” citing a number of “well-documented abductions and extrajudicial killings” and urged President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo to exercise “strong and immediate leadership” to investigate and prosecute individuals and groups, including those in the AFP and PNP, who are responsible for the surge of extrajudicial killings and abductions, that continues to scar the Philippines.
It also called on the Arroyo government to eliminate the underlying causes of the violence. “The well-documented violence that continues with impunity must be ended.”
Among the signatories in the letter, initiated by Representatives James L. Oberstar (D-MN) and Joseph R. Pitts (R-PA), were Representatives Tom Lantos (D-CA), Chair of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, House Appropriations Committee Chair David Obey (D-WI), House Ways and Means Oversight Subcommittee Chair John Lewis (D-GA), and Mike Honda (D-CA), Chairman of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus.
The U.S. legislators reminded President Arroyo that there is growing evidence from human rights organizations and from the Philippine government’s own Melo Commission, which was formed by Arroyo to look into the political killings, pointing to the involvement of personnel from the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and Philippine National Police (PNP) in the killings.
“The leadership of the AFP, PNP, and Cabinet officials steadfastly deny the involvement of military forces in these killings, despite strong evidence to the contrary,” the letter read.
Amnesty International and the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial killings Philip Alston have also reported similar findings.
According to an Inter Press Service News Agency report on Monday (August 1), human rights groups said that since President Arroyo’s election in 2001 there have been more than 800 victims of extrajudicial killings. According to IPS, as of May 15, Philippine human rights organization KARAPATAN reported 863 extrajudicial executions (including 51 journalists) and 196 abductions.
Described by Representative Oberstar as “a sincere communication between the two governments” and with the goal of receiving a positive response from the Philippine government, the U.S. legislators’ letter expressed their deep concern over a “growing environment of impunity” in the island nation and said, “The killing of civilians who are peacefully exercising their lawful right in a democratic society to express dissent is a gross violation of universally recognized human rights and international law.”