Posts Tagged ‘human rights philippines’

The 3,000 cables dumped by WikiLeaks last Thursday August 25 provides vital insights into US interests and positions on topics such as terrorism, the Subic rape case, the Arroyo presidency and the ouster movement, extrajudicial killings, the 2007 and 2010 elections and the Philippine economy. It would certainly take some time to analyze the cables which date from 2005 to 2010. I’ve attempted to classify some of them based on topics that would be of interest to progressives and analysts. There will be more to come in the following days. We hope that the “crowd sourcing” done by WikiLeaks can also be done here. We need more people to read and analyze the cables. They’re on the internet. Anyone can read them and make their own summaries.

In the meantime, here are brief descriptions and highlights from cables dating from 2005-2008.

Counter-terrorism

Many of the cables dealt with the issue of counter-terrorism, on the need to maintain US troop presence in Mindanao, the need to pass the anti-terror law and the need to maintain US aid to go alongside US military presence. The topic of terrorism permeates almost many aspects of the work of the embassy, from scene-setters for visiting US officials, regular country assessments, US military and economic aid, Philippine legislation and diplomacy.

  1. The US wanted to build “dual-use” infrastructure in Sulu and Tawi-Tawi. Apart from their civilian use, these airports would have been designed to meet the requirements of US aircraft such as C-130 cargo planes.  http://wp.me/p1Phi-ji
  2. PH Defense Usec Ric Blancaflor describes US.-PH relationship as “just short of incest.” http://wikileaks.org/cable/2007/04/07MANILA1284.html
  3. The Human Security Act (terror law) should give PH government some new tools to use against the CPP/NPA-  http://wikileaks.org/cable/2007/07/07MANILA2327.html
  4. WikiLeaks- US troops in Mindanao provide “PR services” to help Armed Forces of the Philippines  improve its image http://wikileaks.org/cable/2008/07/08MANILA1764.html
  5. DFA Secretary Romulo tells US that PH worked with Dutch gov’t “for several years” to build case vs. CPP founder Joma Sison  http://wikileaks.org/cable/2007/09/07MANILA2982.html
  6. US gov’t gave economic aid and projects to Gov.Zaldy Ampatuan of the ARMM and a known warlord. Three years later, he will be implicated in the massacre of 57 people, including more than 30 journalists.  http://wikileaks.org/cable/2006/04/06MANILA1845.html
  7. The US embassy believes that Philippines “has no obvious enemies except for leftists and Muslims linked with extremist activities”.  http://wikileaks.org/cable/2005/10/05MANILA4810.html#par32
  8. PGMA tells US ambassador the AFP wants to buy additional US aircraft because “that’s what our pilots like to fly”. “http://wikileaks.org/cable/2007/06/07MANILA1983.html

Human rights

There were several cables from 2005-2009 on the particular issue of extrajudicial killings of activists and journalists. During this time, there was a surge in the killings of activists critical of the Arroyo government. The US identified the victims as leftist activists “associated with the Communist Party of the Philippines”. In several cables, the US ambassador and other representatives of the US government strongly and repeatedly urged the Philippine government to “control the problem” of EJKs.  In subsequent cables, the US seemed content with the actions taken by the Arroyo government, including the formation of TF Usig, the Melo Commission among others. The US talked with various Philippine officials and noted the progress in addressing the problem of EJK’s. The Philippines is the biggest recipient of US military aid in this part of the world.

  1. US senate staff says Philippines on “downward trend in terms of human rights and rule of law” wikileaks.org/cable/2007/08/
  2. US embassy in Manila takes cynical view of extrajudicial killings in PH, saying these killings will persist so long as NPA also escalates attacks vs. AFP  http://wikileaks.org/cable/2006/03/06MANILA1452.html
  3. Here’s a self-incriminating statement. Defense Undersecretary Ric Blancaflor said killings of activists “resulted from the intensification of anti-insurgency, anti-terrorist drives.” http://wikileaks.org/cable/2007/04/07MANILA1284.html
  4. US embassy shows “concern” over arrest of Morong 43 amid reports of rights abuses. http://wikileaks.org/cable/2010/02/10MANILA289.html

The Arroyo presidency

The cables revealed the attitude of the US embassy towards moves to oust Arroyo from power. The US closely monitored the situation and came to the observation that there was no critical mass to oust Arroyo and that her removal via people power would serve as another bad example to other nations. Arroyo was no Thaksin, as one cable said. The embassy was confident she would weather the different challenges to her regime. The embassy took note of Arroyo’s SONA speeches, her declaration of a state of national emergency, her refusal to resign, efforts at charter change and the various issues of corruption plaguing her administration.

In one cable, released just before the death of President Corazon Aquino, US ambassador Kristie Kenney called the former president an “icon of democracy” but also a  “partial icon of morality” because of her alliance with “dubious political figures” like deposed president Joseph Estrada. Cory and Erap were both part of the broad anti-Arroyo movement. According to Kenney, the decision of Cory to align with Erap against GMA “blemished her reputation as a moral crusader”.

  1. US embassy in Manila did not think anti-GMA protests would gain momentum http://wikileaks.org/cable/2005/07/05MANILA3231.html
  2. Little chance Arroyo will do a Thaksin http://wikileaks.org/cable/2006/04/06MANILA1569.html
  3. On the declaration of a state of emergency, PH officials downplay negative effects http://wikileaks.org/cable/2006/02/06MANILA839.html
  4. US had negative view of “people power” to oust GMA, calls them constitutionally-questionable means with negative implications for stability http://wikileaks.org/cable/2008/02/08MANILA483.html
  5. Anti-Arroyo protests still lack critical mass http://wikileaks.org/cable/2008/02/08MANILA521.html
  6. Wikileaks: Kenney calls Cory “partial icon of morality” for allying with “dubious political figures” like Erap. http://wikileaks.org/cable/2009/07/09MANILA1414.html
  7. Arroyo’s last SONA:  GMA touts achievements, slam critics http://wikileaks.org/cable/2009/07/09MANILA1586.html

Subic rape case

Updates on the Subic rape case involving US Marine Lance Cpl Daniel Smith was a common post from 2006-2008. The cables detail how the US embassy intended to manage the fall-out from the incident. It showed the insistence of the US to keep custody of Smith even after his conviction by a Philippine court. Smith would later on be acquitted  by an Appeals court after the victim, under mysterious circumstances, executed an affidavit that she wasn’t sure that she was raped.

The US protested detention of US Marine and convicted rapist Daniel Smith in PH Jail, insisting on US custody . The move would trigger another round of controversy in the Visiting Forces Agreement. Smith was transferred back to the US embassy amid protests from lawmakers and activists. The Supreme Court would eventually rule that the transfer to the US embassy was not in accord with the VFA, that it was wrong. However, a final ruling on the matter was made moot when an Appeals court acquitted Smith in the rape case.

The economy

Being an important trading partner hosting many US economic interests, the US embassy kept tabs on the Philippine economy. It discussed the impacts of the global financial crisis, labor export policy, the sustainability of growth among other issues.

The US embassy often used its position to lobby for the interests of US firms, as seen in their efforts to amend certain provisions in the Philippines Cheaper Medicines Bill authored by Senator Mar Roxas. The US felt that the bill, which sought to bring down prices of drugs, would infringe on the intellectual property rights of US pharmaceutical firms. The US reps talked with Sen. Roxas at least twice. At least 3 cables were dedicated to discussing these exchanges.

Another cable talks about the US embassy’s support for a Texas power firm that was bidding for the concession agreement of the country’s power transmission line. The competitors in the bidding included China’ State Grid.

The US was also very interested in the mineral reserves of the country but was wary of the security situation in Mindanao.

  1. Wikileaks – DENR sec Mike Defensor asks US gov’t for “joint mineral resources assessment” of PH http://wikileaks.org/cable/2005/08/05MANILA3811.html
  2. US Embassy Manila wary of government efforts to curb oil prices. May harm U.S. commercial interests. http://wikileaks.org/cable/2005/09/05MANILA4338.html
  3. Former Senator Mar Roxas talked with US gov’t re intellectual property rights issues in cheaper meds bill. http://wikileaks.org/cable/2006/05/06MANILA2185.html
  4. Wikileaks- US ambassador offers to be “catalyst” in facilitating power sector privatization in PH http://wikileaks.org/cable/2006/06/06MANILA2633.html
  5. US lobbied legislators Rep.Cua and Sen.Mar Roxas to protect IPR of US drug firms in PH Cheaper Meds Bill. http://wikileaks.org/cable/2006/12/06MANILA4940.html
  6. Texas power firm asks US gov’t help to secure bid for TransCo vs. China’s State Grid Corp and Italy’s Terna SPA http://wikileaks.org/cable/2007/01/07MANILA170.html
  7. US embassy sees labor export as “engine of growth” but calls on PH gov’t to address brain drain http://wikileaks.org/cable/2007/01/07MANILA193.html

Peace, insurgency, elections, corruption

There were other cables on topics such as the peace process with the MILF, how the US government viewed the armed struggle waged by the CPP-NPA, as well as the Philippine partylist system which offered representation for marginalized sectors. There’s also  one article trying to explain the “masa” phenomenon and its potency as a political force.

  1. US embassy on the CPP-NPA http://wikileaks.org/cable/2006/07/06MANILA2973.html
  2. US embassy in Manila believed that total victory over the NPA was unlikely even with Oplan Bantay Laya http://wikileaks.org/cable/2006/06/06MANILA2777.html
  3. PH has no obvious enemies except for leftists and Muslims linked with extremist activities. http://wikileaks.org/cable/2005/10/05MANILA4810.html#par32
  4. US embassy discusses Philippine Party-List System http://wikileaks.org/cable/2007/04/07MANILA1215.html
  5. The “Masa” as a political force http://wikileaks.org/cable/2005/04/05MANILA1808.html
  6. Philippine government “is taking real strides” towards eliminating corruption http://wikileaks.org/cable/2007/11/07MANILA3669.html (This was released in late 2007, at the time the ZTE controversy first broke out).

As far as diplomacy was concerned, the US asked the Philippines “never be more than 1 vote apart from the US UN delegation and to abstain rather than vote against the U.S. on issues in the UN.  http://wikileaks.org/cable/2006/10/06MANILA4348.html

Responding to a query by a US State Department office on Women Empowerment, the US embassy in Manila said that the 5 influential women in the country are Sen. Loren Legarda, Ombudsman Merci Gutierrez, TV host and actress Kris Aquino, journalist Malou Mangahas and governor  Grace Padaca http://wikileaks.org/cable/2007/01/07MANILA302.html. The cable also listed the phone numbers and addresses of the 5 women. The cable also revealed that the US embassy point-of-contact for women’s issues is a guy. ###

An August 2008 cable from the US Embassy in Manila showed the US government’s concern over the human rights situation in the Philippines and its implications on US funding for the country. Mr. Keith Luse, Senior Professional Staff of the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee, visited the Philippines from August 14-18 as part of a three-nation Asian visit that also included Indonesia and Mongolia.

According to the cable, “the purpose of Mr. Luse’s visit was to conduct a field-based study on bilateral U.S. foreign assistance, and also gather information about the human rights situation in the Philippines, particularly the issue of extra-judicial killings”.

It said that various forms of assistance were being provided by the US to “transform the Philippines into a more democratic, prosperous and stronger sustaining partner of the United States”.

From the discussion of the cable, Luse himself conveyed to the Philippine government the “perception, whether correct or not, that the Philippines was on a downward trend in terms of the rule of law and human rights”.

On the side of the Philippine government, Luse met with Senior State Prosecutor and Head of the Presidential Task Force Against Media Harassment of the Philippine Department of Justice, Undersecretary of the Department of Foreign Affairs, Deputy National Security Adviser, and Vice Chief of Staff of the Armed Forces of the Philippines.  Mr. Luse also attended a briefing by the Philippine National Police’s “Task Force Usig,” which is charged with investigating human rights abuses.

“In several meetings with senior Philippine officials, Luse conveyed serious Congressional concern about extrajudicial killings and explained that his trip was essentially a fact-finding visit to learn first-hand about the issue.  He added that he hoped to obtain the Philippine government’s perspective on the nature of the problem and possible solutions,” the cable said.

According to the cable, the Department of Foreign Affairs Undersecretary tried to explain the context of the extrajudicial killings as well as the steps taken by the Philippine government to address the problem. .He said that the Philippine government “took extrajudicial killings seriously and had recently taken a number of steps to address the issue, such as designating 99 special courts to hear such cases and providing additional funding to the Commission on Human Rights”.  He also explained that “the killings did not occur in a vacuum, but resulted partly from the Philippine government’s concurrent fight against three insurgencies (communist, Muslim, and terrorist).”

However, the glaring proof that the Philippine government was not serious in addressing the problem was when the Usec claimed that “many of the killings were actually perpetrated by the Communist National (sic) People’s Army, which was currently purging its ranks of disloyal members as it had done in previous years”.

This was echoed by the Philippine National Deputy Security Adviser’s who heavily emphasized the role of the National People’s Army in the killings. However, he noted that to the extent the Philippine military was involved, it was “rogue elements” within it, as the Melo Commission had concluded.

For his part,the Deputy Director underscored of Task Force Usig also said the cases of extrajudicial killings  were not politically motivated, but the result of personal squabbles, armed conflict, escape attempts, and many other non-political reasons.

These statements show deceit and cover-up by the Philippine government of the real causes of the extrajudicial killings which claimed the lives of hundreds of activists during the time of Gloria Macapagal Arroyo. While one Philippine official cited the Melo Commission’s finding that “rogue elements” within the Philippine government may be involved in the killings, Philippine officials completely ignored the most important finding of the Melo Commission. The fact-finding body actually demolished the theory that an NPA internal purge was behind the extrajudicial killings. This was in fact discussed extensively in the Melo report. The officials were either ignorant of the Melo findings or were simply lying.

Different agencies like the USAID, the MCC and JUSMAG were providing various forms of assistance to the Philippine government in relation to the rule of law and human rights. It said that the “Joint U.S. Military Assistance Group’s support to Philippine Defense Reform is helping build a more professional and accountable Philippine military”.

We don’t know what they mean by a “professional and accountable Philippine military, but it is a well known fact that the AFP’s counter-insurgency program is under the guidance and direction of the US military through the JUSMAG. The reality is that there has been no accountability in the AFP on the issue of extrajudicial killings.

What was the reaction of Luse after the briefing? “Luse was grateful for the perspective he gained from the briefing and requested that the Task Force continue regularly to brief Embassy officials,” the cable said. Despite the obvious efforts of the PH government officials to cover-up or downplay the issue of extrajudicial killings, the US embassy saw the visit of Luse as affording “excellent opportunities for substantive discussions of these challenges and opportunities in the Philippines and for U.S. bilateral assistance”.

Eventually the US Congress would make the release of some $2 million in foreign military assistance contingent on the Philippine government’s compliance with the UN special rapporteur Philip Alston’s recommendations for addressing human rights issues in the Philippines. Some $30 million in annual US military aid continued to be channeled to the Philippines despite its dismal human rights record. ###