Philippines risks losing aid after US rebuke: ex-envoy

Christian V. Esguerra, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Mar 06 2017 03:24 PM | Updated as of Mar 06 2017 03:33 PM

President Rodrigo Duterte gestures as he delivers his keynote message during the groundbreaking ceremony of the Cebu-Cordova Link Expressway at the Virlo Public Market in Cebu on March 2, 2017. Ace Morandante, Presidential Photo

MANILA - A US State Department report calling attention to vigilante-style killings linked to President Rodrigo Duterte's brutal war on drugs may cost the Philippines millions of dollars in military aid from Washington, a former envoy said Monday.

The US government uses the annual human rights reports partly to determine "the allocation of foreign aid and security sector assistance," said Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.

Washington might impose "conditions" on upcoming financing for the Philippine military until the Duterte administration showed it was "serious about showing respect for human rights," said former Ambassador to the US Jose Cuisia Jr.

"There is that danger precisely," he told ABS-CBN News. "I hope that they will not."

The report cited "cases of apparent governmental disregard for human rights and abuses."

"Extrajudicial killings have been the chief human rights concern in the country for many years and they increased sharply over the past year," it said.

The report now puts pressure on the Philippine government not to ignore the rising number of drug-related killings, Akbayan Rep. Tom Villarin told ANC's Early Edition. 

Malacañang said it was "firmly committed to upholding human rights" and vowed to punish "scalawags in uniform."

MILITARY FINANCING

Cuisia said the Philippines lost an estimated $13 million in foreign military assistance spread over "three to four years" because of human rights abuses mostly under former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.

"They felt that the government had not done enough" to address human rights violations, he said.

Washington later lifted the conditions and the Philippines received its highest foreign military financing in 2015 at $66 million, he said.

On top of the annual military financing, which amounted to $50 million last year, the Philippines benefits from the $425-million maritime funding from Washington.

The amount helps boost the maritime capability of the Philippines and four other Southeast Asian countries, two of which also have claims over the South China Sea.

LEAHY LAW

"It was not easy and we had to convince them (to lift the conditions)," Cuisia said.

"The first one we needed to convince was the U.S. Embassy because US Embassy in Manila is responsible for submitting reports."

Under its Leahy Law, the US is barred from providing assistance to another country if its security force "has committed gross violations of human rights."

The State Department report said Philippine "government mechanisms to investigate and punish abuse and corruption in the security forces remained largely ineffective."

It noted that all 294 cases of human rights violations against law enforcers filed between January and August 2016 with the Ombudsman were still "open pending additional investigation."

Even if Duterte "publicly condemned corruption in government and security forces," the report said "there was still little effort to target corrupt security officials."

Duterte earlier halted the bloody police anti-drug operations following the abduction and killing of a Korean businessman inside the main police headquarters in Camp Crame.

Operations resumed Monday with the promise they would involve only police officers untainted with corruption.

Duterte earlier slammed the US and the European Union over the possibility that they might withhold aid to the Philippines over the drug killings.