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. ###