Foreign lawmakers back proposal to end US funding to AFP, PNP pending reform

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, September 24) — Dozens of foreign lawmakers have supported a resolution filed before the United States Congress seeking to withdraw funding granted to Philippine security forces amid allegations of human rights abuses.

Rep. Susan Wild from Pennsylvania authored and filed the Philippine Human Rights Act on September 17. It was backed and co-sponsored by 24 other democrat lawmakers, including Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. House Resolution 8313 seeks to "suspend the provision of security assistance to the Philippines until the Government of the Philippines has made certain reforms to the military and police forces, and for other purposes."

In a copy of Wild's speech posted on Thursday, the legislator criticized President Rodrigo Duterte and the controversial anti-terrorism law. She cited some its questionable provisions, such as allowing the police and military to arrest and detain a suspected terrorist without a warrant nor charges for 24 days.

"Today, across the Philippines, Rodrigo Duterte's brutal regime is using the pretext of a so-called anti-terrorism law to ramp up efforts targeting labor organizers, workers, and political opponents," she said in an address to House members.

She said this led her to file the resolution.

"In response to these abuses, I introduced the Philippine Human Rights Act, which would block US funding for police or military assistance to the Philippines, outlining a series of basic criteria, which would have to be met in order to resume such funding," Wild said.

The copy of the resolution has yet to be posted by the US Congress. But according to a US-based labor group mentioned by Wild during her speech, the following criteria must be met by the Philippines:

1. Investigate and prosecute members of the military and police forces who are found to have violated human rights

2. Withdraw the military from domestic policy

3. Establish protection for the rights of trade unionists, journalists, human right defenders, indigenous persons, small-farmers, LGBTI activists, and critics of the government

4. Take steps to guarantee a judicial system that is capable of investigating, prosecuting, and bringing to justice members of the police and military who have committed human rights abuses

5. Fully comply with any and all audits or investigations regarding the improper use of security aid

The foreign lawmaker said US aid should not be used to train and provide equipment to police and troops who abuse their power.

"Let us make clear that the United States will not participate in the repression. Let us stand with the people of the Philippines," she said.

The resolution will be referred to committees which will debate the bill before possibly sending it on to the whole chamber.

Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque quipped that it was a "wild" proposition — in reference to the lawmaker's name — but maintained confidence in the country's relationship with the US. He shrugged the resolution off as a mere opinion which will not likely pass the US Congress.

"Hayaan na po natin iyan [Let's leave it alone]. Iyan po ay personal opinion ni [That is the personal opinion of] Congresswoman Wild, which is a very wild idea," he told the Malacanang press.

The Armed Forces on the other hand, called the proposal "unfair." Spokesperson Edgard Arevalo stressed that the AFP does not have any human rights abuses in its record but always welcomed victims to come forward with complaints to allow due process.

Senators who authored the anti-terrorism law being challenged by at least 35 petitions filed before the Supreme Court said US will also have something to lose if the resolution is adopted and approved.

"The said bill will not only be our loss but theirs as well, considering that a major part of the security assistance being extended to the Philippines is used to combat terrorism, which knows no borders," Senator Panfilo Lacson said.

Lacson and Senate President Vicente Sotto III said if the bill is passed, the Visiting Forces Agreement, the decades-old military pact between the US and Philippines, will be rendered ineffective.

"We should reconsider the VFA if they pass that. It's actually a big IF. If they pass a bill suspending security aid to us, then what will the VFA stand for?" Sotto said.

The Philippines sent a notice that it was terminating the VFA after the US canceled the visa of Senator Ronald dela Rosa, but the abrogation is temporarily suspended.