WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Ben Cardin (D-Md.), a senior member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, joined four Senate colleagues in asking the State Department to explain the Trump administration’s strategy for countering serious, ongoing human rights abuses in the Philippines. The Duterte government recently approved a new counter-terrorism law that could enable further repression as the government ramps up a militarized response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Meanwhile, an unjust “cyber-libel” verdict against journalist Maria Ressa and the government’s shutdown of a major broadcasting company signal a deteriorating situation for journalists and the media.
“The Philippines is an important ally of the United States. But alliance considerations cannot be grounds for silence or unquestioned assistance to the Philippines in light of the pattern of gross violations of human rights by the Duterte government, particularly in its counter-narcotics operations,” write the Senators in their letter to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. “Years into the Philippine government’s catastrophic ‘war on drugs,’ we must continue to speak out about abuses when we see them.”
A copy of the letter can be found HERE.
Also signing the letter are Senators Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.), Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) and Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.). The Duterte government recently banned Senators Markey, Leahy, and Durbin from the Philippines for refusing to stay silent about human rights violations.
In their letter, the Senators ask Secretary Pompeo to provide responses to questions including:
- How does the State Department plan to respond to the Philippine government’s systematic human rights violations, including restrictions on free expression?
- Have you expressed concerns to the Duterte government about the potential abuse of authorities granted to it by the Anti-Terrorism Act? Which sections of the legislation do you believe present the greatest risk from a human rights perspective?
- Given the Duterte government’s worsening human rights record, do you intend to continue providing military assistance and licensing commercial arms sales to the Philippines? Have you expressed to the Duterte government that it needs to address human rights abuses in order to continue to receive military equipment from the United States?
- Has the Trump administration conveyed to the Philippine government the consequences for U.S.-Philippines relations if Maria Ressa is detained?
- Has the Philippine government reversed new restrictions imposed during the COVID-19 pandemic on Senator Leila De Lima’s ability to communicate and meet with visitors including her staff? Are you continuing to raise Senator De Lima’s illegitimate detention with Philippine government counterparts?