On Wednesday January 29, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte announced that he will not allow any member of his Cabinet to travel to the United States. This announcement came just a few days after he ordered the termination of the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA), a 1998 military pact between the Philippines and US which accords legal status to US troops who were rotated in the country for military exercises and other operations. The termination order was given after Senator Ronald “Bato” Dela Rosa’s visa was canceled by the US. Dela Rosa is well known as President Duterte’s close confidant and leader of his bloody war on drugs.

It is clear that Duterte’s blatant abuses of power, leading to the egregious violations of human rights in the Philippines over the past 3 years, are ringing alarm bells for some US legislators. While the US has given Duterte’s regime 550 million dollars in military aid since 2016, the US Senate and House of Representatives have also both passed resolutions condemning the Government of the Philippines for its continued detention of Senator Leila de Lima, Senate resolution 142 and House resolution 233.  The “threat” to terminate the VFA, as well as the barring of his Cabinet members’ travels to the US, function as Duterte’s test of the loyalty of the US government, his closest military ally and most ardent supporter. 

ICHRP-US welcomes the termination of the VFA, and sees it as a key step in end support of Duterte, if it is actually enacted. Since its inception, the Filipino people have protested and pushed back against it, and against any presence of US troops in the Philippines. ICHRP-US  welcomes any action taken by the US government to withdraw its ongoing support for human rights violations in the Philippines vis-a-vis military support for Duterte’s state forces.  

As the murderous war on drugs continues in the cities, we also see the heightening of abuses against human rights defenders, in Negros and throughout the country, through Executive Order 70 and Memorandum 132 with the establishment of the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Insurgency (NTF-ELCAC), and the brutal Oplan Kapanatagan and “whole of nation approach.”  While these are sold to the people as peacekeeping and stabilizing efforts, in reality, they are nothing more than fascistic crackdowns on legal activist organizations and terror-tagging of individuals who disagree with Duterte’s policies and practices, modeled from from the 2009 U.S. counterinsurgency guide.

While Duterte tests the level of public support he can receive from the United States, it is ever more urgent we register our dismay and outrage towards ongoing U.S. support of the regime and to win over those who support human rights in the Philippines to become even bolder in advocacy. We hold strong in our support for genuine sovereignty and self-determination in the Philippines, which necessitates freedom from U.S. military intervention in the country.

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