SEVERAL Democratic senators from the United States are urging President Joe Biden to condemn human rights abuses in the Philippines under the Duterte administration.
In a letter to Secretary of State Antony Blinken last week, 11 senators raised concerns over the reported human rights situation in the Philippines and asked the Biden administration to address the “continuing pattern of human rights violations” by the Philippine government under President Rodrigo Duterte.
“We write to express our continued concern about the human rights situation in the Philippines, and seek to better understand the Biden administration’s strategy for addressing the Duterte government’s continuing pattern of human rights violations,” the lawmakers said in the letter dated July 26.
“We urge the Biden administration to stand with the people of the Philippines as they continue to fight for their universal human rights. The State Department should condemn the aforementioned abuses at the highest levels in our diplomatic engagements with Philippine government representatives, as well as publicly,” they added.
The senators also pointed out that maintaining a bilateral relationship with the Philippines “requires upholding shared values” such as the protection of human rights, including freedom of speech, freedom of the press, and vibrant democratic governance.
“Yet, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has waged a multi-year extrajudicial, violent, and inhumane ‘war on drugs’ that has devastated communities, and has been used as justification to target the independent press, political opponents, [and] human rights advocates, and compromise judicial due process,” they added.
The letter was written by Senator Edward J. Markey of Massachusetts, who chairs the Foreign Relations Subcommittee on East Asia and the Pacific, along with 10 other senators: Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts; Cory Booker of New Jersey; Patrick Leahy from Vermont; Jeffrey A. Merkley of Oregon; Sherrod Brown of Ohio; Ben Cardin of Maryland; Ron Wyden of Oregon; Bob Casey of Pennsylvania; Richard J. Durbin of Illinois; and Chris Van Hollen from Maryland.
Markey, Leahy, and Durbin had been previously banned from entering the Philippines after supporting a U.S. travel ban on Filipino officials linked to the detention of Filipina Senator Leila de Lima.
According to the senators, opposition figures, journalists, and activists critical of Duterte’s drug war “frequently find themselves targeted” by the government.
They also flagged the government’s red-tagging of critics “falsely accused of terrorism and communism, in an effort to stifle criticism and freedom of expression.”
“Terrorism Act, currently under review by the Philippines Supreme Court, is then used to persecute red-tagged groups,” the senators noted.
Additionally, the senators cited the forced shutdown of ABS-CBN, the country’s largest broadcast network.
“This unfortunate pattern of silencing critics and shuttering space for democratic discourse is exemplified in two high profile cases we have repeatedly raised with the State Department,” they said, referring to the detaining of De Lima and the government’s prosecution of Rappler CEO Maria Ressa.
“These cases lay bare the systemic and coordinated attempts to silence journalists, political opposition, and human rights defenders,” the senators added.
The senators, in their letter, also posed questions for Blinken.
“What actions has the State Department taken under your leadership and respond to the Philippine government’s systemic human rights violations, including the coordinated push to implement the Anti-Terrorism Act? What has been the response?” they asked.
They also asked if Blinken had communicated to the Philippine government that ‘red-tagging’ is an unacceptable practice in violation of international human rights.
Further, they asked if Blinken has reviewed the U.S.’ security assistance to the Philippine National Police, and whether he is considering barring Duterte officials “involved in significant corruption.”
“Are you considering designating any Duterte government officials involved in significant corruption as ineligible to enter to the United States under Section 7031(c) of the State, Foreign Operations, and Related Operations Appropriations Act, 2021?” they asked.
“How has the administration weighed the Duterte government’s pervasive human rights abuses when evaluating sales of weapons and military aircraft to the Philippine military? What steps has the administration taken to utilize these sales as leverage to encourage thePhilippines to improve its human rights record?” they added.
For their last question, the senators asked if Blinken plans on discussing human rights conditions in the Philippines in the upcoming Summit for Democracy and other discussions of human rights in the Indo-Pacific.
In response, Duterte warned the U.S. Department of State about criticizing his administration.
“Be careful, be careful of what you are planning or doing there because you, yourself, your country is — hindi lang (not only) was — is guilty also of so many violations of human rights,” he said during his weekly taped address on Monday, August 2.
Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque previously said that they will leave the decision to the Biden administration, maintaining that the Palace would not interfere with matters concerning another country’s government.
“We leave that decision to President Joe Biden,” Roque said on Monday.
He added, “Amerikano po ‘yan (They are Americans). In the same way na ayaw mayroong maghihimasok sa gawain ng Kongreso ng Pilipinas, hindi po natin sila panghihimasukan (In the same way that we do not want them to interfere with matters of Congress of the Philippines, we will not interfere with their internal matters),” said Roque.
“Yan naman po ay personal na mga pananaw ng mga senador na Amerikano. Bahala na po sila kung anong gagawin nila (That is a personal opinion of the American senators. It’s up to them to decide on what they want to do),” he added.