US churches seek Congress human rights action on the Philippines

By agency reporter
March 29, 2009

The National Council of Churches USA has urged the United States Congress to require assurances that the Philippines is living up to human rights standards before providing its government with additional military financing.

Other human rights groups have also called for an end to the shoring up of the Philippines' state apparatus with arms and equipment.

Despite efforts by the House and Senate Appropriations Committees to tie US military aid to improvements in the Philippines’ human right record, widespread abuses continue, says the NCCUSA’s general secretary, the Rev Dr Michael Kinnamon, in an open letter to the Congress.

“The perpetrators of these abuses continue to enjoy impunity and there is strong evidence that Philippine military officials responsible for human rights abuses will never face justice,” Kinnamon writes.

He cites a report that there has been no official investigation of a high ranking Philippine military official in the wake of evidence the Philippine Supreme Court found “convincing” that the officer was responsible for kidnapping and torture.

“We are also alarmed at reports that the Philippine government is increasingly using politically motivated prosecutions to charge and detain political activists, labor leaders, attorneys, academics and clergy,” Kinnamon declares.

In 2008, Congress allocated US$30 million in Foreign Military Financing (FMF) to the Philippines, but said US$2 million of that amount would be conditioned on the Philippine government’s compliance with recommendations of a United Nations report, prosecution of human rights violators, and an end to military harassment of civil society.

“The Philippine government did not meet any of these conditions ... (but) the (US) Department of State provided the Philippines with the full FMF allocation,” Kinnamon says. “We are very concerned about the lack of transparency in the reporting process.”

He has urged the Congress to require that the Philippine government receive no further FMF until it meets all of the three human rights conditions, and that the State Department be required to make public its process for certifying human rights in the Philippines “to promote greater transparency and understanding between the United States and the people of the Philippines.”

Congress must ensure that US military aid does not directly or indirectly promote human rights violations and undermine democracy in the Philippines, Kinnamon says. “The rights and freedoms of the Filipino people depend on it.”

The National Council of Churches consists of 35 member communions from a wide range of Christian traditions including mainline Protestant, Orthodox, Anglican, evangelical, historic African American churches and peace churches. Together, the churches represent 100,000 congregations and 45 million people in the USA.

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