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US senator warns PH of 'further conditions' on aid

MANILA, Philippines – Criticizing "state-sanctioned violence" under Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, US Senator Patrick Leahy warned the Philippines of "further conditions" on US aid because of recent extrajudicial killings in the Southeast Asian country.

Leahy authored the law that bars the US from extending assistance "to any unit of the security forces of a foreign country if the Secretary of State has credible information that such unit has committed a gross violation of human rights."

The senator is also the ranking member of the US Senate subcommittee that funds American foreign assistance programs. 

"The Leahy Law should be used to encourage reform and accountability, but to address these systemic challenges it may be necessary to consider further conditions on assistance to the Duterte government to ensure that US taxpayer funds are property spent and until that government demonstrates a commitment to the rule of law," Leahy said Monday, September 26.

Leahy, a Democrat, said he has already asked the US  State Department "to discuss this with us to help inform our deliberations on current assistance for the Philippines and on decisions we will make for appropriations in fiscal year 2017."

"While there are ways we can find out which units were involved in these abuses, if President Duterte's government is unwilling to work with us, including by refusing to investigate allegations of abuses, then we are faced with a broader issue that cannot be remedied simply by withholding assistance from specific units or individuals," Leahy also said.

The Leahy Law, after all, blocks US aid – in case of human rights abuses – only "to any unit of the security forces of a foreign country," and not to the entire country itself. 

Leahy explained, "I believe that if the extrajudicial killings and state-sanctioned violence continue, and there is no accountability for the abuses that have been committed, there will need to be an appropriate response by the US government."

Senator fears 6,000 dead

Leahy issued this statement after the US State Department recently committed around P320 million ($6.7 million) to boost law enforcement in the Philippines.  

William Brownfield, assistant secretary for international narcotics and law enforcement affairs of the US State Department, explained in a phone interview with Rappler, "Wherever the funds eventually go, these will be used in strict compliance with US legal obligations, and basic international law enforcement and policing standards."

Senator Benjamin Cardin, ranking member of the US foreign relations committee, pointed out in a conversation with Leahy: "If the current trends continue we can expect that over 6,000 people will be dead as a result of extrajudicial killings in the Philippines by the end of this year. 6,000 people."

Duterte's war on drugs has killed more than 3,740 people since he took office on July 1. 

More than 2,200 of these have been slain in extrajudicial killings, while others died in legitimate police operations.

"This is not a situation in which there is occasional error or the over-zealous application of force," Cardin said. "This is systematic, wide-spread, brutal, and beyond the bounds for a constitutional democracy."

Duterte, however, has criticized the US itself over human rights, particularly over the US military's alleged "atrocities" in the southern Philippines.

The President, too, recently said he is "about to cross the Rubicon" or "the point of no return" with the US. While not breaking ties with the Philippines' former colonizer, he said he is seeking stronger ties with China and Russia instead. – Rappler.com

*$1 = P48.075

Paterno R. Esmaquel II

Paterno R. Esmaquel II, news editor of Rappler, specializes in covering religion and foreign affairs. He obtained his MA Journalism degree from Ateneo and later finished MSc Asian Studies (Religions in Plural Societies) at RSIS, Singapore. For story ideas or feedback, email him at pat.esmaquel@rappler.com.

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