Bid to end US funding to PH police, military may 'come into play' under Biden presidency – envoy

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Philippine Ambassador to the United States Jose Manuel Romualdez (FILE PHOTO)

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, November 20) — The country's envoy in Washington expects some progress in efforts to withdraw US funding to the Philippine police and military under the administration of Democratic President-elect Joe Biden.

Philippine Ambassador to the United States Jose Manuel Romualdez expressed this concern as he recalled that the US government gave the Philippines $550 million (almost ₱26.6 billion) worth of military assistance from 2016 to 2019.

"However, a recent bill filed by a Democratic representative which seeks to suspend military and police aid to the Philippines on the issue of human rights is something that could also come into play under the administration of President-elect Biden," Romualdez said in a forum organized by the Rotary Club of Manila.

READ: Duterte congratulates Joe Biden as PH gov't vows to 'work closely' with new US admin

He was referring to the proposed Philippine Human Rights Act, filed by Pennsylvania Democrat Rep. Susan Wild in September. The bill seeks to suspend the security assistance to the Philippines until reforms are made in the police and military.

Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque dismissed it as a "a very wild suggestion" that is unlikely to pass US Congress. However, Romualdez is certain "the usual suspects" will attempt "to put a wedge" between Duterte and Biden, who is set to take over as the 46th President of the US in January 2021.

Wild's controversial proposal assails President Rodrigo Duterte's bloody war on drugs, which has now left 5,903 people dead, based on government data. Human rights groups say thousands more were victims of alleged extrajudicial killings.

The bill also took note of attacks against labor leaders, journalists, and government critics, including the continued detention of Senator Leila de Lima on what she calls "trumped-up" drug charges.

Under the proposed measure, funding should be restored only after the Philippine government prosecutes erring law enforcers and puts an end to the abuses. Other requirements include taking the military out of domestic policy and protecting the rights of human rights defenders, activists, small farmers, journalists, indigenous persons, and critics of the government.

Romualdez stressed the government is taking steps to improve the country's human rights situation.

"We are not saying that there are now human rights violations but people must also recognize that something is in fact being done such as the filing of cases against members of the police force who are themselves involved in the illegal drugs trade," he said.

"As friends and allies, we can discuss these issues and the United States can also advise us but at the end of the day, they have to respect our sovereignty and recognize that we are an independent nation," the envoy added.

Separately, the European Parliament is seeking an end to the killings and abuses in the country. It recently adopted a resolution pushing for immediate trade sanctions "in the absence of any substantial improvement and willingness to cooperate" on the part of Philippine authorities.

The UN Human Rights Council took a softer approach, approving technical assistance to the Philippines amid calls for an international, independent, and impartial investigation.