“Despite calls from various groups and members of the US House of Representatives to decrease military financing to the Philippines, the US government has instead provided the financial means along with war materiel for the conduct of such murderous counterinsurgency programs.”
By MENCHANI TILENDO
MANILA – Progressives here in the Philippines said the three-day visit of US Vice President Kamala Harris will further drive the US government’s role in the worsening violations of human rights in the country.
“The US cannot evade accountability for the worsening human rights situation in the Philippines. It already has blood on its hands for having pushed and funded successive regimes in the Philippines, including the Duterte administration, to adopt increasingly vicious counter-insurgency policies resulting in stepped-up attacks against people’s rights and civil liberties,” said Cristina Palabay, secretary general of human rights group Karapatan.
Harris arrived here on Nov. 20 and has since met with her counterpart Vice President Sara Duterte and had a so-called “longer” bilateral meeting with Ferdinand Marcos Jr., where she reportedly laid down the US government’s intent of renewing its ties in the region.
This is following her visit to Bangkok, Thailand last week to attend the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Leaders meeting.
Key areas of these US trips in the region this November highlighted the strengthening of bilateral security alliances, deepening working relationships with emerging powers, expanding trade and investment, and forging a broad-based military presence. These, critics said, are meant to signify renewed US assertions in the region and a move to contain China as its main political and economic rival in the region.
According to media reports, the US government is set to allocate $100 million (roughly ?5.9 billion) military aid to the Philippines as part of the efforts to boost the country’s defense capabilities and military modernization, which is the largest in the region.
“Despite calls from various groups and members of the US House of Representatives to decrease military financing to the Philippines, the US government has instead provided the financial means along with war materiel for the conduct of such murderous counterinsurgency programs. Hundreds of civilians including human rights defenders and dissenters were killed and thousands have been displaced, with their homes and farmlands bombed because of this US-driven program,” Palabay added.
Who is Kamala?
While Harris is lauded as the first woman and African-American and Asian vice president in US history, critics said her track record is riddled with actions deemed as anti-people, including her apparent pro-police and racist leanings when she served as attorney general of California for six years.
For one, she personally championed the passing of a truancy program in California, which allowed district attorneys to charge parents if their children miss at least 10 percent of school days without a valid reason. Such a move was justified as an apparent attempt to prevent children and school dropouts from being criminals.
This, however, affected families of color, said a 2019 Huffpost report, with parents being put behind bars because they could not afford the fine.
She was also criticized for her apparent anti-LGBTQI+ stance and anti-women when she voted twice in favor of the Hyde Amendment, which prohibits federal funding for abortion except in cases of rape and incest, leaving poor women without access to healthcare.
Harris also faced criticisms over her constant bringing up of the importance of people’s demonstrations while the US government continues to provide military support to governments behind grave human rights abuses. This includes her stance on Israel’s aggression towards Palestine, where she told a student back in 2021 that it is good to have “healthy debates” in the country about the “right path.”
She has done the same in her visit in Manila, where she was quoted as saying that when one speaks of human rights, “one of the things required is that you remember, you are not alone.”
“That means understanding and seeing what suffering looks like, what pain looks like, what unfairness looks like and for someone and anyone who has a level of empathy and understanding about them,” she added.
Palabay, for her part, found it disturbing that the US’s second highest elected official has a predominantly militarist and anti-human rights agenda, adding that it overshadows the stance of the US mission in the recently-concluded Universal Periodic Review that called for an end to red-tagging, revoke laws that threaten free speech including a section of the Philippine terror law, and the seeking of an investigation to extrajudicial killings here.
“By these actions, the US continues its double-speak on human rights, while pursuing its geo-political and military interests in the Philippines and in the Asia Pacific region,” she said.
What is the U.S. Indo-Pacific Strategy?
In her visit, critics expect Harris to continue the US government’s prior stance of “pivot to Asia,” which the former Obama administration started in 2012. This was now dubbed by current US President Joe Biden and highlighted his push for a “free and open Indo-Pacific.”
Under the Indo-Pacific strategy, the US will bring together 13 Asian countries including the Philippines in a multilateral economic initiative called the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework for Prosperity, which will consolidate about 40 percent of the global GDP. This, however, is framed along the same policies that have hindered genuine development in poor countries.
At the core of this strategy is the Pacific Deterrence Initiative (PDI) that calls for increased military exercises and operations in the Indo-Pacific region and the building of war fighting capability in all fronts including cyberspace, artificial intelligence and maritime capacity. The US Congress has allocated $7.1 billion to fund the PDI in 2023.
Throughout his visit to New York last September, Marcos Jr. agreed to solidify partnerships with the US to push for the country’s economic recovery from the pandemic.
Along with this, his administration also agreed to fortify existing military treaties such as the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA), Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA), and to reexamine the Mutual Defense Treaty (MDT) with the US. These pronouncements by Marcos Jr. were also echoed from Senator Imee Marcos’ presentation of a “Seven-Point Plan” on Philippine foreign policy during a September luncheon program in Washington sponsored by the US-Philippines Society.
Other key elements include the pursuit of increased military assistance, exploration of multilateral defense agreements, improvements in Social Protections and public safety nets, expansion of trade opportunities, acceleration of professional engagements, and confidence-building with China. Proceeding from these talks, the Marcos Jr. administration has earmarked $66.5 million to implement EDCA projects in approved locations in the Philippines within the next two years.
However, women’s group Gabriela sounded alarm on the proposed constructions of more US military bases, saying that “not a single US soldier has been punished fairly” with their violence against Filipino women.
“We remind US Vice President Kamala Harris that it is no secret that the building of US military bases has led to acts of physical abuse, rape, hate crimes, murder, and other forms of violence by US soldiers against Filipino women and children. The case of Nicole, Vanessa, Jennifer Laude, and countless other Filipino women are unforgettable proof,” said Clarice Palce, secretary general of Gabriela.
Marcos Jr.’s subservience
In a statement, the International League of Peoples’ Struggle-Philippines said the current administration is clearly following the footsteps of his dictator father, “who allowed the US to use Subic and Clark for the stockpiling of military hardware and equipment as part of its unhampered operations and war of aggression in Vietnam” about half a decade ago.
“The US imperialist government is no friend of ours. With its long history of colonization, waging wars of aggression and intervention, and engineering of policies that worsened the economic, political, and cultural lives of the Filipino people – it has never been an ally nor a partner,” ILPS Philippines said.
Meanwhile, protest actions were held yesterday, the first working day of Harris’s visit in the Philippines.
Kilusang Mayo Uno said, “Kamala Harris’ scheduled talks with Marcos Jr. aims to strengthen the so-called US-Philippine alliance; but the Filipino people know that this just means further puppetry to the US neoliberal policies, and intensified curtailment of our rights.” (JJE, RVO)