A Philippine government spokesman on Thursday dismissed as “a very wild suggestion” an American lawmaker’s bill calling for the United States to suspend military and security aid to Manila over concerns that the Philippines’ recently adopted anti-terrorism law might lead to human rights abuses.
Reacting to news of the proposed Philippine Human Rights Act introduced by U.S. Rep. Susan Wild, the spokesman for President Rodrigo Duterte said it was unlikely that the bill would be passed and enacted into law in America, the Philippines’ longtime ally.
“That's a very wild suggestion. We are confident that the State Department and the administration of President Trump, who is a close friend of our president, sees the importance of cooperation between the U.S. and the Philippines,” spokesman Harry Roque told a virtual news conference.
Roque said he rated as “very little” the chances of the U.S. Congress passing the bill.
“So let’s leave it be. That is a personal opinion of Congresswoman Wild. Which is a very wild idea,” Roque said.
“But we are confident that the United States attaches importance to its partner. Let us leave the process to the U.S.,” he added.
The Congresswoman nonetheless joined a chorus of voices in the Philippines and other countries who say that the Anti-Terrorism Bill, which Duterte signed into law in July, contains provisions that could be used to go after his opponents, including people who have criticized extrajudicial killings carried out through his administration’s bloody crackdown on illegal drugs.
Leading international human rights groups and the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, are among those who have expressed grave concerns about the new law. Government officials in Manila have consistently denied that the law could pave the way for rights abuses.
Critics of the law says it allows Philippine authorities to conduct warrantless arrests, hold suspects without charge for as many as 24 days, and place them under surveillance for up to 90 days. Military officials have said that the new law equips the armed forces with better tools for combatting suspected terrorists, particularly militants in the volatile south affiliated with Islamic State (IS).
“Today, across the Philippines, Rodrigo Duterte’s brutal regime is using the pretext of a so-called anti-terrorism law to ramp up efforts targeting labor organizers, workers and political opponents,” Wild, a Pennsylvania Democrat, said on the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives as she introduced her bill Wednesday.
“In response to these abuses, I introduced the Philippine Human Rights Act, which would block U.S. funding for police or military assistance to the Philippines, outlining as a series of basic criteria, which would have to be met in order to resume such funding,” she said.
The United States is the Philippines’ staunchest military and defense ally, and has in the past help the government combat militants in its far south.
According to Security Assistance Monitor, a Washington-based website that tracks American military assistance to countries worldwide, the Philippines in 2020 is the recipient of U.S. $58.5 million in American financial aid destined for the armed forces and police.
In the early 2000s, the U.S. deployed military advisers to the south who trained and equipped their local counterparts against the Abu Sayyaf Group, the country’s most brutal militant organization that is known for bombings, kidnappings and beheadings.
Three years ago, an Abu Sayyaf faction backed by fighters from Southeast Asia and the Middle East took over the southern city of Marawi, in a siege that lasted five months. American forces flew aircraft overhead and provided intelligence data, which helped the Filipino military crush the militants and kick them out of the city.
Bomb wounds soldiers in Maguindanao
Meanwhile, the Philippine military is now hunting for pro-IS militants who were responsible for suicide bombings on Jolo Island that killed 15 people last month, and 23 last year.
On Thursday, three Philippine government soldiers were wounded by a blast from an improvised bomb in Ampatuan, a town in southern Maguindanao province, as they took part in an operation to track down suspected members of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF), an IS-linked militant group, the military said.
“They were wounded and rushed to a hospital,” Lt. Gen. Corleto Vinluan Jr., the head of the military’s southern command, told BenarNews, adding the troops were out of danger as of Thursday afternoon.
“I have ordered the troops to heighten security operations and stay on guard against the emerging threats in our area of operation,” he said.
BenarNews staff in Washington and Zamboanga, Philippines contributed to this report.