Human Rights Watch (HRW) on Friday urged the US Congress to block or delay sales of almost US$2 billion in attack helicopters and munitions to the Philippines until the government adopts major reforms to end military abuses and hold those responsible to account.
In a statement, Human Rights Watch 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 hundreds of extrajudicial executions, mistreatment of displaced people, and indiscriminate attacks.
Human Rights Watch’s statement comes after the Trump administration notified Congress in late April 2020 of two possible Foreign Military Sales by the US military to the Philippines; one for US$1.5 billion including six AH-64E Apache attack helicopters, a second for US$450 million including six AH-1Z Viper attack helicopters.
Both contracts include accompanying guided missiles, rockets, and light cannon ammunition, as well as ongoing service contracts for training, parts, and maintenance.
“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 John Sifton, Asia advocacy director of Human Rights Watch.
“Congress should be impressing upon the Philippine government that real reforms are needed to end military abuses before deals like this can be approved.”
The Philippine military has a deeply rooted culture of impunity, Human Rights Watch said. Data from the Philippines Department of National Defense indicate that only one soldier has been convicted of an extrajudicial killing since 2001.
For much of the past decade, the US Congress has imposed conditions or restrictions on military assistance to the Philippines, communicating that cuts could only be restored if the Philippine government systematically improved its record, which the government never did.
Unlawful attacks against leftists that the military accuse of being members of or sympathizers with the New People’s Army have continued, particularly in the central Philippine island of Negros. The government has also ramped up its dangerous anti-communist rhetoric against these individuals and groups.
The US State Department has not received any assurances about where these weapons systems would be deployed or for what purpose, Human Rights Watch said.
Under US law illegal use of weapons constitute a violation of their End Use Certificates, which impose various restrictions on their use after a sale.
The proposed sales come at a time of a deeply deteriorating human rights situation in the Philippines and the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic.
After President Rodrigo Duterte began his “war on drugs” in mid-2016, the police have killed more than 5,600 people in anti-drug operations, according to official statistics.
“The US should not be selling advanced military systems to an abusive, unaccountable Philippine military under cover of a global pandemic. Congress needs to act now,” Sifton said. (Source: HRW)