THREE US senators have asked the US State Department to review a $32-million assistance package for training and law enforcement in the Philippines, decrying President Rodrigo Duterte’s “ongoing deadly campaign of mass atrocities.”
Senator Marco Rubio, a Republican, and Democrats Edward Markey and Christopher Coons, all members of the US Senate’s foreign relations committee, said the legality and appropriateness of the funding should be assessed amid “serious allegations of extrajudicial killings that have surfaced in the course of President Duterte’s war on drugs.”
They cited reports that there were at least 2,000 victims of extrajudicial killings and another 3,800 deaths—the result of inadequately investigated homicides connected to what they called “a campaign of mass atrocities.”
The lawmakers noted that the Leahy Law prohibits US assistance or support of any unit of a foreign country’s security forces when its members have carried out gross human rights violations.
“What is our process for tracking the use of US funds in the Philippines to ensure that none of our foreign assistance money dedicated to law enforcement activities is being used to support the extrajudicial killings or other human rights violations of Duterte’s campaign?” the senators asked in a letter dated December 22.
The letter was directly addressed to Assistant Secretary William Brownfield of the US Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs.
To recall, US Secretary of State John Kerry pledged the $32-million assistance package to the Philippines in his July visit to Manila.
In August, Duterte told the Armed Forces of the Philippines he would use the $32-million aid to purchase military equipment. “We will acquire so many things. When US Secretary of State John Kerry came here, he left me with $32 million. You may use it. I will divide it between you and the police,” he said.
In China in October, Duterte announced his military and economic “separation” from the US amid Washington’s criticism of drug-related killings in the Philippines. He also ordered a stop to joint military exercises and naval patrols.
The senators said that “While supporting law enforcement in foreign countries can be a key element of advancing US interests overseas, recipients of our financial assistance must align with our values and ideals, including respect for human rights and the rule of law.”
They suggested that drug addicts be given access to treatment and a pathway to rehabilitation, not a summary execution where the police or vigilantes act as judge, jury and executioner.
“We urge the US to denounce these horrific violations of basic human rights, and ensure that no foreign assistance is being provided to support egregious acts against humanity,” they added.
Sought for reaction, the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) said it would wait for the State Department to respond to the senators’ letter.
“That’s internal to the US government,” Charles Jose, DFA assistant secretary and spokesman, told The Manila Times. “We have to wait and see if or how the State Department reacts to the letter.”
The State Department earlier terminated the government’s plan to sell some 26,000 assault rifles to the Philippine National Police, while the US foreign aid agency Millennium Challenge Corp. deferred a vote on a news assistance package for the Philippines over “concerns around rule of law and civil liberties.”