PH wants more of shrinking US military aid

Posted at 05/03/2012 9:26 AM | Updated as of 05/03/2012 9:48 AM

WASHINGTON D.C. - Every dollar counts for beefing up Philippine defenses, Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario said as he called on US Congress to stop linking the country’s human rights record with efforts to help the military.
 
The US Congress has pre-conditioned the Philippine military getting the full amount of military aid to improving human rights, especially extrajudicial killings. 
 
A panel held by California Sen. Barbara Boxer heard testimony in 2007 from Filipino clergymen and activists who reported about the "culture of impunity" that claimed hundreds of lives – including churchmen, journalists, peasants and union organizers – mostly blamed on the police and military.
 
The US has given about $530 million – most of it Foreign Military Financing (FMF) – over the past decade to help the Armed Forces of the Philippines. Starting in 2008, the release of about 10 percent of the annual military aid was tied to the State Department certifying Philippine compliance to standards set by the United Nations.
 
“Even our harshest critics acknowledge that there has been a significant decline in the number of extrajudicial killings,” Del Rosario told a packed audience at The Heritage Foundation today.
 
There has been a significant decline in extrajudicial killings, he stressed, pointing to “a strong policy environment that institutionalizes respect for and sensitivity to human rights”.
 
“President Aquino’s family itself was a victim of a most heinous human rights crime since his father who was then in the political opposition was assassinated in 1983,” he said, adding that “For this reason, President Aquino has taken bold and resolute action to break the culture of impunity and to institutionalize greater sensitivity and full respect for human rights.”
 
He referred to the Philippine ratification last month of the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment. This obligates the Philippines to create a National Prevention Mechanism that will conduct independent and unannounced visits to places where people are deprived of their liberty. 
 
Del Rosario expressed concern over the shrinking allocation for the Philippines from the yearly FMF for the East Asia and Pacific region that has been cut by half since 2006.
 
While the overall assistance to the Philippines is rising slightly, most of it is in social and economic aid.
 
He said that while the Aquino government has made major investments in the upgrade of Philippine defense equipment, supplementary foreign military financing from the US was critical to developing external defense capabilities.
 
Del Rosario said he raised this issue during a meeting with State Department Asst. Secretary Andrew Shapiro of the Bureau of Political-Military Affairs that drew an assurance that the US would double the initial $15 million FY 2012 FMF allocation for the Philippines to $30 million.
 
US military aid has gone to, among others, acquiring the Philippine Navy flagship BRP Gregorio del Pilar; procuring a C-130 cargo plane for the Philippine Air Force as well as overhauling the engines of MG-520 Defender helicopter gunships; night vision goggles and Humvees for the Philippine Army.
 
Shapiro also reportedly said the State Department would explore additional creative funding streams for the Philippines.
 
When the US still operated bases at Clark and Subic, they provided over half of the AFP’s fuel, repair and maintenance needs.
 
Del Rosario hinted not too subtly that it was in America’s interest to help the Philippines – one of only two treaty allies in the region.
 
“The rise of new powers has also added a new dimension to the geopolitics of Asia and the Pacific. For many years, the US has enjoyed uncontested leadership in the region, and has guaranteed the international system that has engendered the conditions for economic growth and development,” Del Rosario said.
 
“China’s growing economic network in the region, and the rapid modernization of its defense and security infrastructure, is often viewed as a challenge to US influence in the region,” he added.
 
Significantly, out of the $52 billion the US intends to spend in 2013 to help some 102 countries around the world, about 40 percent will go to only 15 countries (excluding the Philippines), leaving about $12 billion to be spread out to the remaining 88.