THE U.S. State Department has denied claims that security assistance meant to address human rights concerns in the Philippines were being used to provide counternarcotics training to local police officers.
In a statement to Asian Correspondent, a department official also confirmed that US$4.5 million worth of funds from the Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs (INL) were in September diverted from law enforcement to maritime security programs. A further US$500,000 will be used for human rights and “internal control” training of the Philippine National Police (PNP).
“Department of State funds are not being used to provide counternarcotics training to PNP officers,” the official insisted.
The official, who was responding to a BuzzFeed News article on the matter, said the department decided it would be “prudent” to refocus the way INL assistance was being spent in the Philippines, where thousands of drug suspects have been slain since President Rodrigo Duterte took power in June.
A Rappler report earlier this month said Duterte’s anti-drugs crackdown has so far claimed the lives of 4,897 individuals, 1,896 who were slain during police operations, while 3,001 were said to be victims of vigilante-style killings.
“Previously, the department provided curriculum and training to assist the PNP transition to a modern, civilian police force capable of providing internal security while demonstrating respective for human rights,” the official explained.
“However, given the present concerns under the Duterte regime, the department has shifted current assistance support specifically from law enforcement to maritime security.”
He said providing backing for maritime security programs would help stop transnational crime in Southeast Asian waters, “to the benefit of U.S. and regional security”.
The INL commits annual funding to the Philippines as support to boost law enforcement efforts. In 2014, the bureau channeled US$8 million in assistance to the U.S.’s Southeast Asian military ally, while in 2015, US$12 million was provided.
According to the department official, INL funding for 2016 is estimated to be an overall US$9 million.
The Tuesday report by BuzzFeed News alleged that although the U.S. has been publicly condemning Duterte’s unorthodox crime-fighting methods, it has continued to train and provide equipment to police units directly involved in the president’s drug-busting campaign.
The report citing government documents as well as former U.S. and Philippine officials claimed that the U.S. State Department sent millions of dollars in aid to programs for police departments nationwide, even as the death toll in the drug war spiked to shocking numbers.
BuzzFeed News also quoted a department spokeswoman as saying that INL funds were no longer being used for counter-narcotics training, but said, however, that comparisons made between Philippine police data and internal State Department records show that there were officers at police stations receiving U.S. aid who have played key roles in the drug war.
After the article, the Human Rights Watch issued a statement urging the U.S. to immediately suspend all assistance provided to local enforcers in the Philippines.
Responding to the suggestion, the U.S. State Department official said: “Per U.S. law and our long-standing human rights policy, security personnel and units found to be involved in gross human rights violations, including extrajudicial killings, are not eligible to receive U.S. assistance.”
The official was referring to the Leahy Law on Human Rights, which bars security force units implicated in human rights abuse cases from receiving U.S. government-supplied training or equipment.
Asked how the department monitors spending of its assistance, the official told Asian Correspondent that, “Personnel and units nominated for U.S. assistance have always been and continue to be vetted in accordance with U.S. law and our long-standing human rights policy.
“The State Department vets information from a wide variety of sources during the Leahy Vetting process, including NGOs, media, governments, and other classified and open sources.”
The official also reiterated that any personnel or units found to have been involved in any form of human rights violation would not receive U.S. assistance.
The Philippines is said to be the third-largest Asian recipient of military aid from the U.S., after Afghanistan and Pakistan.
The Southeast Asian nation’s intrepid president has on numerous occasions challenged the U.S. to withdraw aid, also vocalising his intention to revamp his country’s foreign policy, which he says has too long been overly favourable of Washington.