On July 23, a major headline screamed across the front pages of national dailies, prime-time TV news, and media websites: that the US had just cut its military and police aid to the Philippines by nearly two-thirds, due to the growing concern about political killings.
The US Embassy, the DFA, and Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita immediately denied the reported cuts, which the media dutifully carried in the next days. The ABS-CBN, which first broke the story, clarified that its news source was a US State Department report.
Whatever the real score might be, it is interesting to read between the lines of the US Embassy’s explanation. An Embassy spokesman simply said that “the US federal government’s budget for fiscal year 2008 hasn’t been passed yet…It would be premature to say that aid has been cut.”
As we try to make sense of the pieces of the news puzzle, it appears now that the US Congress is still in the midst of deliberations on the 2008 federal budget. While no final decision has been made, there is indeed a serious proposal for drastic cutbacks of US military-police aid to RP.
Specifically, the US State Department’s per-country proposal for foreign military aid, as posted on its website, showed a cut in figures for RP, from actual appropriations in 2006 of around $30 million, to $17.6 million in 2007, and to a proposed $11.1 million in 2008. There are other proposed substantial cuts in military exchange training and the narcotics program.
On the reverse side, however, a US Senate report recommended a $30-million appropriation for foreign military financing for the Philippines. This is more than twice the State Department proposal.
We should indeed welcome cutbacks in US military aid to RP, because it has been abused by the AFP and PNP in military-police operations that result in massive human rights violations, including extra-judicial killings and abductions, not to mention involvement of its top officials in corruption and electioneering.
It is true that the US Congress (especially the Lower House) and federal agencies such as the US State Dept. are not invulnerable to the growing global clamor to castigate the GMA government for human rights violations.
But alas, the realpolitik of big-power intervention in RP affairs is that the US will continue its support to and control of the AFP and PNP, and will give in to proposals for drastic cuts only because of other factors, such as the growing costs of its world-wide military presence and of its wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Thus, the public attitude to this entire development must continue to be skepticism, or at least guarded optimism, until the US Congress approves the 2008 federal budget and starts to be reflected in real-life changes in the volume of US aid falling into the hands of the AFP and PNP.
Meanwhile, we join the human-rights community and the entire public in the continuing campaign to stop the political killings and abductions. We must support efforts to lobby not just the US but other countries to cut their military aid to RP, as a major step to impress on the GMA government, AFP and PNP their ultimate accountabality for so many documented cases.
This reminder, about the tight link between US aid and political killings, is most appropriate as we observe the first anniversary on July 31 of the ambush of the Claver family resulting in the death of Alice Claver. #