US holds back Philippine military aid

By Pia Lee-Brago, The Philippine Star

Posted at Jun 23 2012 01:39 AM | Updated as of Jun 24 2012 07:22 AM

Philippines told to stamp out extrajudicial killings

MANILA, Philippines - The United States’ assistance to the Philippine military that the US Congress continues to withhold until the government meets certain conditions related to solving and prosecuting cases of extrajudicial killings already amounts to $13 million for the past five years.

The US embassy in Manila yesterday said that the US Congress is withholding $3 million in Foreign Military Financing from the Philippine government in Fiscal Year (FY) 2012.

“To obtain these funds, the Philippine government must demonstrate it is continuing to take effective steps to implement the recommendations of the UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial killings; strengthening government institutions working to eliminate extrajudicial killings; investigating, prosecuting, and punishing military personnel and others who have been credibly alleged to have violated internationally recognized human rights; and ensuring the Armed Forces of the Philippines is not engaging in acts of violence or intimidation against members of legal organizations who advocate for human rights,” the embassy said in a statement to The STAR.

Withholding by the US Congress began in 2008, and was carried out as follows: FY 2008 - $2 million, FY 2009 - $2 million, FY 2010 - $3 million, FY 2011 - $3 million and FY 2012 - $3 million.

The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) said the Philippine government has made significant strides in terms of protection and promotion of human rights.

“And yet the amount remains conditioned to date,” DFA spokesperson Raul Hernandez said.

In some countries where there are widespread concerns over human rights, Hernandez pointed out that the US government executed a national security waiver to release the conditioned funds but this is not applied to assistance for the Philippines.

US Ambassador Harry Thomas Jr. said during the first Kapihan sa Embahada on Thursday that there is still no indication that the US Congress would remove a congressional hold on a portion of its aid to the Philippine military until significant progress has been made in prosecuting those responsible in extrajudicial killings.

Washington also urged the Philippines during the second Universal Periodic Review (UPR) at the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva last month to take additional measures to ensure that the military exercises full control over Civilian Armed Forces Geographical Units and the police over Civilian Volunteer Organizations, holding these units accountable for the Philippines’ obligations under international human rights law.

Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario denied allegations by the US embassy that the Philippines has not satisfied the criteria set by the US Senate Committee on Appropriations for the lifting of the withholding element on a portion of assistance to the Philippine military.

In his speech on May 2 at the Heritage Foundation in Washington, Del Rosario said the Philippines has “effectively taken such steps” and there has been a significant decline in extrajudicial killings and a strong policy environment in place that institutionalizes respect for and sensitivity to human rights.

He stressed that warrants of arrest have been issued against high profile suspects such as retired Army Gen. Jovito Palparan and former Palawan Gov. Joel Reyes and at least 198 suspects have been charged in the Maguindanao massacre.

A portion of the Foreign Military Financing (FMF) allocation for the Philippines has been conditioned since 2008 on the issuance of a report from the State Department on the human rights situation in the Philippines.

The Philippines appealed in January to remove the “withholding element” on a portion of its assistance to the Philippine military by the US Congress, saying the perception of worse human rights situation in the country is not factual.

Del Rosario met last Jan. 14 with members of the US House Appropriations Committee who were in Manila for a visit and discussed bilateral issues including defense, security development assistance and good governance.

Second Navy ship

Meanwhile, the Philippine Navy said that the second warship to be acquired from the US would cost more than the BRP Gregorio del Pilar since the government had to buy weapons and accessories that were stripped from the vessel.

The Navy purchased weapons and communication systems for the second warship after the US had turned down a request by the Philippines to include these features in the vessel.

The government spent P400 million to acquire Gregorio del Pilar, the first warship provided by the US to the Philippines last year.

Navy chief Vice Adm. Alexander Pama could not tell how much had been spent for the accessories of the second warship, which will be renamed BRP Ramon Alcaraz, but admitted that the transfer costs, training and other expenses would definitely exceed P400 million.

A second warship was turned over by the US Coast Guard to Philippine officials last May.

The government has allotted P8.8-billion worth of Malampaya funds for the military’s capability upgrade effort.

More than P5 billion of these funds have been released while the rest will be handed down this year.

About 90 Navy officers and personnel are now in Charleston, South Carolina to undergo training on how to maneuver the ship.

He said the Navy would also tap the Malampaya funds to acquire three helicopters to be used to conduct aerial surveillance and to support the warships when conducting security patrol.

He said the acquisition of Ramon Alcaraz would improve the Navy’s capabilities while enhancing its maritime domain awareness.

The Ramon Alcaraz was named after a torpedo boat commanding officer during World War II. It is a high-endurance cutter and has features similar to that of Gregorio del Pilar and was largely used by the US Coast Guard for drug and migrant interdiction, law enforcement, search and rescue, living marine resources protection, and defense readiness. The ship can accommodate up to 180 officers and sailors. – Alexis Romero