Military decries bill filed in US Congress

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    THE Armed Forces yesterday said it was unfair for a United States lawmaker to raise alleged human rights violations in introducing a bill that seeks to suspend US military assistance to the Philippines.

    Malacañang and several Philippine lawmakers downplayed the bill filed by Pennsylvania Rep. Susan Wild filed before the US Congress.

    Wild’s Philippine Human Rights Bill seeks to block US assistance to the Philippine military and police establishments for purported human rights abuses. The bill, co-sponsored by 20 other lawmakers, lists the criteria for the grant of assistance.

    Wild has said she introduced the bill in response to the Anti-Terrorism Act which President Duterte signed in July. Wild said the ATL attacks activists and political opponents of President Duterte.

    At least 37 petitions have been filed before the Supreme Court questioning the constitutionality of the anti-terror law. Security officials have downplayed concerns about the law leading to abuses.

    In a press briefing in Camp Aguinaldo, AFP spokesman Maj. Gen. Edgard Arevalo said the military establishment has not recorded any human rights violation by any of its men in the past years.

    “All our soldiers are operating within the limits and bounds of respect for human rights, law of armed conflict or International Humanitarian Law and the provisions contained in Article III of the 1987 Constitution pertaining to Bill of Rights,” he said.

    Arevalo nevertheless acknowledged that some groups, associated with the communist New People’s Army, have been been raising unfounded human rights violations against the military.

    Arevalo said it is the NPA which has been violating human rights, including that of its members who are executed on suspicion that they are working as government spies or agents.

    “In many instances in the past, we have been solid, we have been emphatic about our position against human rights violations, that the AFP has no record of any human rights violation then and now,” said Arevalo.

    Arevalo reiterated the military challenge to groups raising human rights against the soldiers to come forward with the evidence so these personnel can be charged and tried before a military tribunal.

    Interior Secretary Eduardo Año said he appreciates the concern shown by the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights on alleged human rights violations in the war on drugs in the Philippines.

    “However, we would like to clarify that in the drug war, we are taking great measures in ensuring that the individual rights of the Filipino people are duly respected and protected,” said Año.

    Año said the DILG is maximizing “inter-agency partnerships to address various aspects of the drug problem.”

    “Together with other law enforcement agencies, we implement deliberate and responsible law enforcement operations to address the supply of illegal drugs in the Philippines,” said Año.

    Presidential spokesman Harry Roque said the measure is a “wild suggestion” that has very little chance of being approved, given the importance of ties between Manila and Washington.

    FIGHT VS TERRORISM

    Sen. Panfilo Lacson said the bill, if passed, will have adverse effects on the US’ fight against global terrorism.

    “Members of the US Congress are within their rights to file any legislative measure under any circumstances. As in our case, it will have to go through the mill of first reading and referral, committee hearings and floor debates,” said Lacson, chairman of the Senate committee on national defense and security.

    He said once the bill is adopted and approved, the US will also suffer, considering a big chunk of the security assistance given the country is used to fight terrorism.

    “If adopted and approved, the said bill – H.R. 8313 – will not only be our loss but theirs as well, considering that a major part of the security assistance being extended to the Philippines is used to combat terrorism, which knows no borders and timing. And they know that for a fact,” he said.

    Lacson said the US Congress may also have to resolve the legal issues on the Visiting Forces Agreement because it is still existing.

    Senate President Vicente Sotto III said the Philippine government must reconsider the termination of the VFA if the US Congress approves the measure. — With Raymond Africa and Jocelyn Montemayor