SF CHRP (San Francisco Committee for Human Rights in the Philippines) is a San Francisco based human rights advocacy group. Latest news and views on human rights in the Philippines.
The New York and San Francisco Committees for Human Rights in the Philippines (NYCHRP and SFCHRP) are troubled to learn, and condemn, the planned 2012 RP-US Amphibious Landing Exercise (Phiblex) that will soon be taking place between the U.S. Marines and the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP).
Joint military exercises between the AFP and US military forces, like Phiblex and the annual Balikatan “military exercises,” are designed to improve interoperability between the two military s’ which we believe will lead to the further erosion of Philippine sovereignty and contribute to a deteriorating human rights situation in the Philippines.
Ever since the United States was forced to close its bases in the Philippines after the Philippine Senate reasserted its sovereignty by adhering to the 1987 Philippine Constitution by not allowing foreign troops or bases in the Philippines the US military has continuously been returning to the country since the RP-US Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) was signed in 1999. With the signing of the VFA the US military has been allowed free reign in the country, essentially making it one large “military base,” and has also been active in combat operations that it deems “military exercises.”
With the VFA, Balikitan exercises, and Phiblex the US military has essentially inserted itself into a civil war between the Government of the Philippines and the Communist Party of the Philippines and its armed wing the New People’s Army (which are both part of the National Democratic Front of the Philippines, the NDFP) and it has also been involved in a local rebellion in Mindanao between the Philippine government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front. Instead of trying to foster cooperation and genuine peace between the Government of the Philippines and the NDFP and MILF by trying to strengthen the peace talks between them the US government has decided to opt for all out war by inserting its own combat troops in the country.
Another troubling aspect of past joint military exercises has been the rampant abuse of the Filipino people by the AFP which has been implicated in tens of thousands of human rights violations over the course of 27 joint RP-US Balikitan exercises which originally started in 2002. Since 2001 there have been over 1,256 extrajudicial killings linked the the AFP and the Philippine National Police (PNP). With further US funding of the Philippine military and continued cooperation in counterinsurgency operations and joint military exercises the US is continuing to embolden a Philippine military which has been linked to these political killings, and has been condemned, by the likes of the United Nations, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and the Philippine-based human rights alliance KARAPATAN.
These current joint exercises are linked to counterinsurgency programs by the AFP which has been trying to crush a national communist fueled insurgency and localized rebellion in Mindanao since the 1960s. The current incarnation of these past counterinsurgency programs is Oplan Bayanihan which as already been linked to over 50 extrajudicial killings since it was implemented last year under the current president Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III.
These counterinsurgency programs, which receive guidance and funding from theUS military, are used to target activists and organizations with no ties to either the Muslim insurgency in Mindanao or the national communist insurgency. Instead they target political parties such as Bayan Muna Partylist (which has two members in Congress) which has had over 148 of its members killed by the AFP and PNP and activists such as union-organizer Santos “Ricky” Manrique who was killed by an unidentified gunman back in April in Compostella Valley, Mindanao. His only crime was organizing a campaign against environmentally destructive large-scale mining in his region. Another recent killing on October 17th involved Italian missionary Father Fausto Tentorio who was gunned down by another unidentified gunman in North Cotabato, Mindanao. His only crime was advocating for the rights of the Lumad people of North Cotabato and for promoting sustainable agricultural practices.
Killings like these are explicitly connected to joint military exercises such as Phiblex and to the counterinsurgency program Oplan Bayanihan. These exercises and operations do not solve the problem of the decades old insurgencies. Instead they aim at legal, community organizers and activists and leave a bloody trail of innocent people that are in no way connected to any of the rebel groups in the Philippines.
NYCHRP and SFCHRP are demanding that Phiblex be canceled and that all other future, and current, joint military exercises between the AFP and US military be scrapped. It has been obvious, as a decade of evidence shows, that these joint exercises and US guided counterinsurgency programs (such as Oplan Bayanihan) do nothing to quell the communist lead national insurgency or the local Mindanao MILF lead insurgency. Far from stopping the insurgencies Oplan Bayanihan and exercises such as Phiblex, while using the guise of “humanitarian” projects to soften their image, are actually fueling a climate of impunity which has lead to the death of over 1,256 political activists and community organizers,contributed to the illegal arrest and detention of over 300 political prisoners, and tens of thousands of other human rights violations that range from individual death threats to the forced evacuation of entire communities.
There is nothing positive that can be gained from the current counterinsurgency program and from the currently planed Phiblex exercises in 2012. Instead of focusing on extremely destructive military measures that only harm Innocent Filipinos and communities the US and Philippine governments should try and focus on the ongoing peace talks between the Government of the Philippines and the NDFP and the MILF. It is only through tackling the root causes of social and economic inequality, that actually fuel the insurgencies, will there be any progress in achieving peace in the Philippines. Phiblex will only further embolden the AFP in continuing its destructive practices of extrajudicial killings, targeting and threatening of community organizers and activists, and use of enforced disappearances against critics of the Philippine government.
NYCHRP and SFCHRP call on the US to remove its troops from the Philippines since their presence is in current violation with the Philippine Constitution and because they are inserting themselves into national and local rebellions that the US has no business in taking part of. We also call on the Philippine government to completely scrap Oplan Bayanihan as it is the leading cause of all of the human rights violations that have occurred since President Aquino took office in June 2010 and because it is contributing to the stalling of the peace talks between the NDFP and the Government of the Philippines and between that same government and the MILF.