Obama asks US Congress to remove conditions on military aid

(The Philippine Star) Updated November 10, 2009 12:00 AM

MANILA, Philippines – The Obama administration has asked the US House of Representatives to remove the conditions on the $2-million military aid for the Philippines in the proposed US appropriations act for next year, the Department of Foreign Affairs said yesterday.

The US Congress has yet to adopt a final version of the bill, Foreign Affairs Secretary Alberto Romulo said.

Romulo confirmed Defense Secretary Gilbert Teodoro’s statement that US Sen. Daniel Inouye, Senate appropriations committee chairman, has committed to increase defense and security assistance for the Philippines.

“The Philippine government had been recognized by both the Obama administration and the US Congress for its efforts in addressing human rights issues,” he said.

“We welcome US engagement  with our country because we share the same values of democracy, freedom and rule of law.”

Romulo said the US Congress has pushed for higher US military assistance to the Philippines next year compared to previous years.

“Both houses of the US Congress have recommended close to double the amount requested by the Obama administration for foreign military assistance,” he said.

Romulo said overall, the Obama administration has proposed $667 million in assistance for the Philippines for next year to include defense, security and economic assistance; poverty alleviation under the Millennium Challenge Account; and veterans’ benefits.

“The Philippine government remains fully committed and determined to address issues in relation to the protection and promotion of human rights,” he said.

This request for the Philippines is the second largest amount of military assistance in the Asia Pacific region, Romulo said.

Bayan Muna Rep. Neri Colmenares said the US has doubled the amount of military aid to the Philippines for next year.

Speaking to reporters yesterday, Colmenares said Obama has recommended $15 million in military assistance, but the US Congress increased it to $30 million.

“We condemn Senator Inouye of the Democratic Party, who has not even bothered to meet with the victims of human rights violations in the Philippines, for his support for a repressive government and military in the Philippines,” he said.

Colmenares said US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton should tell Filipinos who are victims of human rights violations how a single senator could influence US foreign policy with respect to human rights.

The $30 million in US assistance to the Armed Forces is contained in Resolution 3081 that emanated from the US House of Representatives, he added.

The US Congress has already approved the resolution, Colmenares said.

He furnished reporters copies of the bill, “An Act making appropriations for the Department of State, foreign operations, and related programs for the fiscal year ending Sept. 30, 2010, and for other purposes.”

It appropriates military assistance to the Philippines “not to exceed $30 million,” $2 million of which “may not be obligated until the Secretary of State reports in writing to the committees on appropriations” Philippine compliance on three conditions.

The first condition is that the country “is taking effective steps to implement the recommendations of the United Nations Special Rapporteur (Philip Alston) on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, to include prosecutions and convictions for extrajudicial executions; sustaining the decline in the number of extrajudicial executions; addressing allegations of a death squad in Davao City; and strengthening government institutions working to eliminate extrajudicial executions.”

The second is that the government “is implementing a policy of promoting military personnel who demonstrate professionalism and respect for international recognized human rights, and is investigating and prosecuting military personnel and others who have been credibly alleged to have violated such rights.”

In the third condition, US lawmakers wanted to make sure that the Armed Forces of the Philippines “do not have a policy of, and are not engaging in, acts of intimidation or violence against members of legal organizations who advocate for human rights.”

The resolution also contains provisions related to assistance for other countries, including Vietnam and Serbia.

Last Thursday, Colmenares told a Quezon City news forum that failure of the Arroyo administration to comply with the same conditions imposed this year has resulted in the scrapping of the remaining $2 million in military aid.

He said he learned of the decision from American lawmakers and from Raymond Richhart, head of the State Department’s East Asia desk, with whom he met during his recent US visit.

However, on the same day, Teodoro said the Philippines has received the full amount of military assistance the US Congress has appropriated for it.

Colmenares said Clinton must clarify whether the $2 million was indeed scrapped, as Richhart informed him, or released, as Teodoro asserted. 

Instead of complying with the conditions, the Arroyo administration sent a lobby group to the US Congress to work for the release of the remaining military aid, he added.

Colmenares said the group was composed of Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita, President Arroyo’s Special Envoy Patty Paez and Philippine Legislative Affairs Officer Ariel Peñaranda.

“The failure of President Arroyo to investigate and prosecute retired

 

Gen. Jovito Palparan defeated all their lobbying efforts,” he said.

 

Clinton must explain

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton must explain the “indefinite” stay of American troops in the Philippines, as well as the continued US military aid to the Arroyo administration despite a US State Department report on the country’s human rights situation when she arrives, the Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan) said yesterday.

Renato Reyes Jr., Bayan secretary-general, said they view with “great wariness” the upcoming visit of the US official in the country from Nov. 12-13.

“While on the surface the visit seems to foster solidarity and aid after the devastating typhoons, the lopsided RP-US treaties also seem to be on the agenda,” he said in a text message to The STAR.

“We are concerned that the visit aims to expand the RP-US Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) and Mutual Defense Treaty (MDT).”

Reyes said the US government still gives the Arroyo administration some $30 million in military aid each year.

“Like the Obama-Arroyo meet, we’re afraid that the Clinton visit will only reinforce the unequal ties between the two countries,” he said.

During her two-day visit to Manila, Clinton will also hold consultations with senior Filipino officials, Clinton’s spokesman Ian Kelly told reporters. – Pia Lee-Brago, Jess Diaz, Katherine Adraneda