WASHINGTON — Days after a controversial White House call in which President Trump lauded Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte’s drug war and invited the leader accused of extrajudicial killings to D.C., outraged senators introduced a bill to restrict defense exports from the U.S. government to Duterte’s police.
In December, Duterte said he had personally killed people he suspected to be criminals while mayor of Davao. One of his ministers claimed he was exaggerating for effect, but in August he said in a message to suspected drug dealers, “My order is shoot to kill you. I don’t care about human rights, you better believe me.” Late last month, an attorney for a former death squad lieutenant submitted a 77-page complaint to the International Criminal Court asking that Duterte and 11 other Philippine officials be prosecuted at The Hague for the murder of 9,400 people through Duterte’s mayoral term and presidency.
The White House said late Saturday that Trump and Duterte had a “very friendly call” in which they “discussed the fact that the Philippine government is fighting very hard to rid its country of drugs, a scourge that affects many countries throughout the world.”
Trump also invited Duterte to the White House “to discuss the importance of the the United States-Philippines alliance, which is now heading in a very positive direction.”
After an earlier call in December, Duterte’s office said Trump endorsed his drug war and told him he was going about it the “right way.”
Asked whether Trump was approving of Duterte’s human rights abuses, press secretary Sean Spicer told reporters this week that “the national interests of the United States, the safety of our people and the safety of people in the region, are the number one priorities of the president.”
After the call, Senate Foreign Relations Committee Ranking Member Ben Cardin (D-Md.) said he was “deeply disturbed” by the interaction and emphasized that “ignoring human rights will not advance US interests in the Philippines or anyplace else.” He indicated bipartisan legislation would be coming “to make it clear to President Duterte that there will be consequences for his barbaric actions.”
That bill, the Philippines Human Rights Accountability and Counternarcotics Act of 2017, was introduced Thursday by Cardin and Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.).
The bill cites reports from human rights groups and the State Department about the thousands of extrajudicial killings of suspected drug pushers or users under Duterte, as well as the targeting of political opponents. It increases U.S. involvement on security cooperation to help the Philippines achieve a “credible defense posture” and stipulates “no defense articles or defense services may be exported, and no licenses for export of any item controlled by the United States for law enforcement, riot control or related purposes may be issued, for the use of the Philippine National Police or entities associated.”
Exceptions are provided for maritime law enforcement, criminal justice programs, human rights training and counterterrorism programs.
It gives the president the authority to waive the restrictions on a case-by-case basis if he “determines that the export of such item or service is in the national interest of the United States” and notifies Congress 30 days in advance.
The restrictions would expire five years after the bill’s passage or when “the president determines that the Philippine National Police and its associated entities have been sufficiently reformed” and “sufficient safeguards, reporting, investigatory, and judicial measures have been established to prevent recurrent human rights abuses.”
“President Duterte has unleashed a campaign of extrajudicial killings in his country that has horrified the international community,” Cardin said. “Mr. Duterte must handle criminal issues through the rule of law and allow drug addicts access to the public health services and treatment they deserve. In the absence of such actions, this legislation is clear in its support for the Filipino people and the importance of our alliance, but also the consequences if Mr. Duterte’s actions continue.”
The bill also includes assistance such as $50 million to the State Department and USAID to promote substance abuse treatment and support human rights defenders in the country, provisions “committed to the health and well-being of this relationship, and the fundamental human rights of the Filipino people,” Cardin added.
“America and the Philippines have an important and enduring alliance, which is why the growing number of extrajudicial killings as part of the Philippine National Police’s ‘war on drugs’ is deeply alarming,” Rubio said. “This is not the right way to conduct an anti-drug campaign, and our legislation reflects our sincere desire to work with the Philippines to support human rights, expose narcotics networks emanating from mainland China and other countries, and use a public health approach to responsibly counter the dangers that drugs pose to our societies.”