Shortly after the reopening of four US military bases in the Philippines, Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos met with US President Joe Biden in Washington DC on May 1, 2023. However, instead of putting pressure on the Philippine government to respect human rights, the US reaffirmed its security alliance with the Philippines.
Human rights groups such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch previously called on President Biden to impress upon President Marcos the urgency of taking action to improve the human rights situation in the Philippines. Above all, the politically motivated charges against ex-senator Leila de Lima, who has already been imprisoned for six years, as well as against Rappler co-founder Maria Ressa should be lifted. In addition, those responsible for the murders in the so-called “war on drugs” should be brought to justice and the threats and intimidation of government critics through so-called “red-tagging” (i.e. the false accusation of supporting the communist insurgency) should be stopped.
In addition, in an ecumenical letter, over 100 faith-based organisations called on Biden to stop the military agreement with Marcos to prevent further human rights violations. They also called on Biden to support the Philippine Human Rights Act, which would allow US security assistance only on condition that human rights violations are investigated.
According to Ruben Carranza, former commissioner of the Presidential Commission on Good Governance in the Philippines, keeping good relations between the two countries is in their mutual interest. This includes safeguarding US geopolitical interests in the South Pacific by building up its military presence in the Philippines. Marcos would also benefit from this with regard to the competing political dynasties and paramilitary groups in the country. In addition, President Marcos would still need diplomatic immunity to continue entering the US. This is because there is a pending 353 million dollar contempt judgement issued by a court in Hawaii in relation to a human rights class suit against his dictator father.
Human rights violations during martial law under dictator Marcos Sr. were also previously condoned by the US, based on the agreement to keep US military bases in the Philippines.
History belongs not only to the past but also shows in this case its continuities, as historian Alfred McCoy noted. A coalition of Filipino community organisations in the US warned in a statement that an “uncritical engagement” with Marcos Jr. would lead to a historical revisionist shift.
Photo © Raffy Lerma