Arms exports examinedExplosive violence in the Philippines

UK arms exports to the Philippines

The Philippines: Country overview
The Republic of the Philippines is located in Southeast Asia in the Pacific Ocean, sharing maritime borders with Taiwan, Vietnam, Palau, Malaysia and Indonesia. It has an estimated population of 100 million. Rodrigo Duterte has been the president since 2016, elected on promises to fight crime, and to rid the country of drugs and corruption. Duterte has, however, been internationally condemned for his culpability in thousands of extrajudicial killings in this declared war on drugs.

The Philippines signed the Arms Trade Treaty in 2013 but is yet to ratify.

How many licenses for the sale of arms to the Philippines has the UK issued between 2008 and 2017?
The number of arms exports licenses provided to the Philippines went up steadily under the Coalition government, even as the human rights situation in the country deteriorated. From 2010 to 2016, the number of licenses granted more than doubled, from 64 to 195. It peaked at 256 in 2017. In total, from 2008 to 2017, 1176 licenses were granted for the Philippines, out of which 704 were for military purposes and 472 for dual-use.

Source: Campaign Against Arms Trade, 2017

Source: Campaign Against Arms Trade, 2017

What is the total value of those exports in GBP?
The value of exports to the Philippines grew rapidly under the Coalition government, quadrupling from 2009 to 2010, and hitting a peak of £8.3m in 2013. However, most of the exports corresponded to dual-use equipment since the UK sold £2.1m on weapons that year.

Such correspondence between the expense for dual-use and military equipment changed in 2016, when £4.6m out of £6.5m came from the sale of arms under the British Conservative government. A year later, military exports plummeted to £1.3m, while dual-use ones rocketed to £11,5m. In total, from 2008 to 2017, £45.4m worth of licenses was exported to the Philippines from the UK.

Source: Campaign Against Arms Trade, 2017

Source: Campaign Against Arms Trade, 2017

What are the top 10 types of weaponry Britain is selling to the Philippines?
The British government has primarily sold hi-tech spying equipment to the Philippines, including IMSI-Catchers, which are used to eavesdrop on telephone conversations, and surveillance tools to monitor internet activity. Cryptography equipment is often part of the tools needed to locate suspects, an integral part of the government’s so-called war on drugs.

Source: Campaign Against Arms Trade, 2017

Why should British citizens be concerned about arms sales?
President Duterte declared war on drugs after he took office in June 2016. Several thousand people have been killed in the resulting crackdown, many of them in suspected extrajudicial executions by the security forces or by vigilante groups. Duterte has bluntly stated that he will use all means necessary to eliminate  anyone associated with drugs. In April 2016 he said:  “forget the laws on human rights. If I make it to the presidential palace, I will do just what I did as mayor. You drug pushers, hold-up men and do-nothings, you better go out”.

Victims are often drug users rather than traffickers, and officials have been accused of falsifying evidence to justify the killings as self-defence. Government officials appeared to endorse these acts and promise immunity to their perpetrators, and the president said that he had personally killed suspects while serving as a mayor. A senator who attempted to investigate the violence was accused by the president of links to the drug trade and was subsequently imprisoned.

Torture is widespread and is “overwhelmingly” attributed to the police. Torturers generally enjoy impunity – to date, only one person has been convicted under the anti-torture legislation. Enforced disappearances, arbitrary arrests, and extrajudicial killings of activists, politicians and journalists have all been reported.

In light of this, continuing arms sales to the Philippines constitutes a major concern, as UK law states that the British government must not “issue an export licence if there is a clear risk that the proposed export might be used for internal repression”.

Duterte has admitted allowing wiretapping of suspected “narco politicians”, including the Ozamiz city mayor, Reynaldo Parojinog. Parojinog and 14 other people were found killed in a police raid on his home last July.

The International Criminal Court announced earlier this year that it is looking into evidence that the president has committed crimes against humanity.

What has the British government said about these concerns?
The British government has not commented on the human rights abuses in the Philippines. In fact, the international trade secretary, Liam Fox, said on an April 2017 visit to the country, that he wanted Britain to build a stronger relationship with the Philippines based on “a foundation of shared values and shared interests”. Fox added that Philippine firms and investors should know the UK remains “open for business”.

A Whitehall source, however, told The Guardian that Fox had raised human rights and corruption concerns during the meeting with Duterte saying it would act as an impediment to trade. But officially, the UK government has made it clear that the Philippines is not a problem from a human rights and trading perspective.

The UK Department for international trade has said that the UK “government takes its export responsibilities very seriously” and that “all export licence applications are considered on a case-by-case basis and we will not license the export of items, where there is a clear risk that the goods may be used for internal repression.”

Labour MP Lloyd Russell-Moyle, who is a member of the committee on arms export controls, said in early 2018 that the sale of surveillance tools “makes the UK complicit in deaths of thousands of Filipinos”.

What evidence is there of human rights abuses that the Philippine government have committed since 2010?

Events in 2010
In May, Benigno Aquino III became the country’s new president – in elections that were considered largely free and fair. However, the election gave rise to much political violence that continued after the elections, where more than 20 activists, journalists, party members and politicians were killed. Despite the largely free elections, several key institutions, including law enforcement agencies and the justice system, reportedly remained weak and the military and police continued to commit human rights violations with impunity. Torture was, for instance, a widespread practise and one stand-out report described how the police tortured a naked suspect while he was “ being yanked by a cord attached to his genitals and whipped with a rope.”

Events in 2011
Human rights reports described that politically motivated killings of political activists and journalists continued. Also, allegations of torture, extrajudicial killings and targeting killings of street youths were reported. The newly elected President Benigno Aquino III stressed that the government was “working overtime” to improve the human rights situation and resolve previous cases, pleading for patience. However, very small efforts were made to address the problem of impunity, where the administration failed to recognise security forces involvement in the extrajudicial killings of political activists that continued to be reported.  Human Rights Watch documented at least seven cases of extrajudicial killings and three enforced disappearances – all cases with strong evidence of military involvement since Aquino took office in June 2010.

Events in 2012
Indications of improvements in several areas are noted in this period.  The new administration took steps to prosecute high-profile officials involved in abuses, including killings and torture. Also, despite not being completely eradicated, extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances had reportedly decreased since Aquino took office in 2010.

However, abuses committed by security forces were still reported. Amnesty International reported how three farmers in January were detained at the Manilla airport, allegedly by state forces, and have not been seen since. The authorities reportedly refused the men’s lawyers access to vital information, such as footages from the airport at the time of their disappearances.

Events in 2013
The Aquino administration declared that they would initiate investigations against officials and others implicated in extrajudicial killings, torture, and enforced disappearances. However, despite such promising statements, they did not make any significant progress in this period. This was concerning as, even though there was a drop in extrajudicial killings, both politically motivated killings and the murder of petty criminals by “death squads” were still frequently reported. Moreover, harassment of and violence against leftist political activists and environmentalists continued to be reported.

Events in 2014
A decline in the number of cases of extrajudicial killings, torture, and enforced disappearances committed by the regime was reported, yet such abuses did still occur. The government still did not take sufficient steps to end the impunity enjoyed by the police and armed forces, the dysfunctional criminal justice system and the military’s general resistance to accountability. Furthermore, human rights reports described a continued widespread use of torture committed by security officials. Among the methods used were electric shocks, systematic beatings, waterboarding, near-asphyxiation with plastic bags, forcing detainees to assume stressful bodily positions and threatening with death if they refuse to cooperate. This is despite that Philippian law criminalises torture. The Philippines’ Commission on Human Rights (CHR) revealed a secret detention facility in Laguna, where police officers appeared to be torturing detainees for entertainment, as a large roulette wheel was found, on which were written descriptions of various torture positions.

Events in 2015
With Aquino’s presidential term reaching an end, the human rights record during his rule has continued to be worrying, despite his half-hearted efforts to fight impunity for the regimes’ misconduct. Among the continuously reported crimes are summary killings that Philippine media report takes place on an almost daily basis. Most of these killings often happened with the complicity of police. The police was reportedly also often involved in the killings of nearly 300 leftist activists, human rights defenders and other alleged NPA supporters since Aquino took office in 2010. 65 were allegedly killed in the first 10 months of 2015. Killings implicating the military and paramilitary groups almost never resulted in prosecutions. Finally, according to statistics from the CHR, an overwhelming number of reported torture cases implicated police officers. Since 2001, 67% of the complaints filed were against police officers. This figure went up to 80% in 2015.

Events in 2016
In June, Rodrigo Duterte was elected the new president of the Philippines, after campaigning on promises to ”kill all of you who make the lives of Filipinos miserable” and vowed to “solve drugs, criminality, and corruption in three to six months.”  In his campaign, Duterte publicly praised the extrajudicial killing of suspected drug dealers and drug users. Duterte is known for openly telling how he personally killed suspected criminals when he was mayor of his home city of Davao. After he took office, Duterte launched a nationwide campaign to crack-down on drugs, leading to a wave of unlawful killings. After one year in office, 6.000 people had reportedly been killed, deaths rarely followed up by criminal investigations. It soon became clear that the implicated state security forces were enjoying widespread impunity.

Allegations also abounded against the Duterte administration for the widespread use of torture. The UN Committee Against Torture stated that it was concerned “that impunity for acts of torture continues to prevail, as illustrated by the fact that although the number of cases of torture reported to the Commission on Human Rights of the Philippines has risen since the adoption of the Act, only one person has been convicted to date in 2016, more than six years since the Act was adopted.” It added that the overwhelming majority of reported cases of torture take place in police stations.

Events in 2017
The death toll in Duterte’s war on drugs had reportedly reached 9,000 since he took office, and countless reports described the high number of extrajudicial killings by the armed forces and vigilante groups related to the anti-drug campaign. Many of the extrajudicial killings of drug suspects continued to be framed as self-defense shootings, despite the acknowledged police killings were widely believed to be planned and staged. It was documented, for instance, how the police planted firearms, spent ammunition and drug packets on their victims’ bodies to implicate them in drug activities. Likewise, it was reported that masked civilian gunmen who took part in the killings were working closely with the police. Overall, impunity continued, and no one involved in the ‘drug war’ killings had by 2017 been meaningfully investigated or even prosecuted. On the contrary, Duterte had pleaded to spare the policemen implicated in killings.

It was even argued that Duterte’s authorisation of killings as a core part of his campaign against drugs, elevated the killings to the level of a crime against humanity.

Despite this catalogue of harm, the UK still deems it acceptable to sell weapons and arms to the Government of the Philippines.  Human rights abuses continue. For more from this investigation please go here