Sanctions on the Philippines?

>> Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Perry Diaz   

In a move that infuriated President Rodrigo Duterte, the U.S. House Committee on Foreign Affairs’ Human Rights Commission held a hearing on Duterte’s “War on Drugs” campaign.  At the center of the investigation is the allegation that Duterte’s administration has authorized extrajudicial killings of people suspected of peddling or using illegal drugs.  
According to the Philippine National Police (PNP), more than 7,000 deaths have been reported from July 1, 2016 to January 21, 2017.  The killings were carried out by both police and unknown vigilantes.
Human Rights groups have criticized Duterte’s method of eradicating the drug problem, which targeted the poor.  They cited lack of due process.
During his opening remarks at the Human Rights Commission hearing, U.S. congressman James McGovern, co-chair of the commission, said: “We should be clear what an extrajudicial killing or execution is: It is the purposeful killing of a person by governmental authorities without the sanction of any judicial proceeding.”  “No arrest. No warrant. No judge. No jury.  Simply, murder.” [Source: ABS-CBN News]
McGovern added that he does not support Duterte's planned visit to the White House in October.  “President Duterte does not seem to have high regard for human rights. I certainly believe, very strongly, that a man of a human rights record like Duterte should not be invited to the White House.”  “No other country comes to mind where people are assassinated in the name of fighting drugs and leaders brag about it,” he said.  “If he comes, I will lead the protest. We ought to be on the side of advocating for human rights, not explaining them away.” [Source: ABS-CBN News]
Duterte fights back
In response to McGovern’s remarks, Duterte said: “There will never be a time that I will go to America during my term, or even thereafter. So what makes that guy think I'll go to America?  I've seen America, and it's lousy.”
Duterte told reporters that he, too, could investigate the U.S.’s history of human rights violations.  In reference to the Battle of Bud Dajo in the island of Jolo, which happened more than a century ago – in 1906 – Duterte reportedly said, “You're investigating me and the internal affairs of my country? I'm investigating you, and I will investigate you, and I will expose it to the world what you did to the Filipino, especially to the Moro Filipino.”  
He said that American troops killed hundreds of Moro people in their attempt to control Mindanao. Congressman Randy Hultgren, the Republican co-chair of the Human Rights Commission, said that the U.S. Congress is obligated to not only advocate for but to defend human rights. “We need to maintain bilateral cooperation with our ally without jeopardizing human rights in the Philippines,” he said.
Defenders of human rights
Ellecer Carlos, one of the many witnesses at the hearing, said, “Duterte has effectively put in place a de facto social cleansing policy with his war on drugs affecting the most vulnerable and impoverished sections of Philippine society. He has effectively defined a particular section of Philippine society as inhuman and worthy of elimination.”  Carlos, who represents the In Defense of Human Rights and Dignity Movement (iDEFEND) of the Philippines, urged the U.S. Congress to call on Duterte to stop the killings.
Another witness, Matthew Wells of Amnesty International (AI), said he has been part of an AI team that has investigated the murderous campaign against drugs in the Philippines.  
As reported in the news, Wells said, “Local government officials, at the behest of the police, draw up what is known as a ‘drug watch list’ that purports to identify people who use or sell drugs in that area. The vast majority of victims come from the poorest segments of Philippine society. Inclusion is at times based on hearsay, community rumors, or personal rivalry, with little or no verification. These ‘drug watch lists’ are then often turned into kill lists.  Police units usually rely on these lists to identify targets. AI’s investigation found that, in at least some areas of the Philippines, police officers have received significant under-the-table payments for ‘encounters’ in which alleged drug offenders are killed.  Payments ranged from P8,000 for killing a person who uses drugs to P15,000 for killing a small-scale ‘pusher’.” [Source: Philippine Star]
Meanwhile, the U.S. Senate is working on a bill introduced by U.S. Senators Marco Rubio (Republican) and Ben Cardin (Democrat) last May.  Known as the Philippines Human Rights Accountability and Counternarcotics Act, it would “restrict the exportation of certain defense articles by the United States to the Philippine National Police, support human rights and civil society organizations in the Republic of the Philippines, and report on sources of narcotics entering that country.”
Rubio said, “America and the Philippines have an important and enduring alliance, which is why the growing number of extrajudicial killings as part of the Philippine National Police’s ‘war on drugs’ is deeply alarming.” “This is not the right way to conduct an anti-drug campaign, and our legislation reflects our sincere desire to work with the Philippines to support human rights, expose narcotics networks emanating from mainland China and other countries, and use a public health approach to responsibly counter the dangers that drugs pose to our societies.” [Source: U.S. Senate Committee on Foreign Relations]
Cardin said, “President Duterte has unleashed a campaign of extrajudicial killings in his country that has horrified the international community. Mr. Duterte must handle criminal issues through the rule of law and allow drug addicts access to the public health services and treatment they deserve. In the absence of such actions, this legislation is clear in its support for the Filipino people and the importance of our alliance, but also the consequences if Mr. Duterte's actions continue.” [Source: U.S. Senate Committee on Foreign Relations]
With all these concerns aired by members of the U.S. Congress, one wonders what could the U.S. possibly do to “encourage” Duterte to end his bloody “War on Drugs” that has violated international human rights norms?
The U.S. has punished rogue countries like Russia, Iran, North Korea, and Venezuela with economic sanctions.  On August 5, 2017, the United Nations Security Council unanimously approved a U.S.-drafted resolution that bans North Korean exports of coal, iron ore, lead, lead ore, and seafood.  It also bans new joint ventures with North Korea and any new investment in current joint ventures.  These new sanctions could slash by a third of North Korea’s $3 billion annual export revenue.
A week ago, the U.S. government has imposed financial sanctions on Venezuela’s president Nicolas Maduro, after the election of a new legislative body to redraft Venezuela’s constitution, which the U.S. described as a “sham.”
Then the U.S. Congress passed a veto-proof legislation that imposes sanctions on Russia, Iran, and North Korea.  It also prevents President Trump from suspending new and existing sanctions.
The question is: At the rate the U.S. Congress is seriously taking its role as defender of human rights, when will Duterte get into the crosshairs of the U.S. Congress?  Will the Philippines soon join the exclusive club of sanctioned countries?  If so, what would the economic cost to the country be? (


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