In the first Philippine presidential visit to Israel, Rodrigo Duterte traveled on Sunday, September 2, for a four-day stay that included renewing relations between the two countries as well as a new arms deal. Duterte says that he wants to better arm his police force and troops, and sees Israel as the best option for that due to a lack of restrictions that come with buying from other nations, such as the United States. Both Canada and the United States had previously provided arms to the country, but have since withdrawn as a result of the president’s war on drugs, which has left at least 12,000 people dead.
Duterte’s “drug war” has the attention of the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) as well as the Human Rights Watch (HRW), the latter citing violations including extrajudicial killings, attacks on human rights advocates, and children’s rights, among others. Amnesty International is protesting this arms deal with the Philippines, as it has to previous agreements, mentioning that Duterte’s war on drugs is simply a pretext for targeting the poor. The HRW backs up this claim, noting that a majority of the victims of these extrajudicial killings, carried out by both police forces and unidentified gunmen, seem to have been parts of low-income urban centers. Residents of Israel took protest to this potential deal, rallying outside of the presidential residence against complicit behavior in addition to the weapons sales. According to Reuters, Israel has previously provided the Philippines with three radar systems and 100 armoured vehicles, with total Israeli exports to the country reaching $143 million last year. Duterte is now looking to secure an aircraft deal as well as additional assault rifles and pistols from Prime Minister Netanyahu.
While the arms are reportedly for added security against attacks from the Islamic State, it is hard to believe that they will not be abused by the Philippine government to continue Duterte’s spree of extrajudicial killings. By providing the Philippines with these weapons in spite of the knowledge of their obvious human rights violations, Israel’s government is thus condoning this violence and perpetuating it. The International Criminal Court (ICC) launched an investigation into Duterte’s activities back in February of this year, but he is not cooperating, claiming that they have no jurisdiction over the country since it withdrew from the Rome Statute, and therefore there is an alarming lack of action taken to stop these actions from happening at this time. With the level of destruction and terror that Duterte’s term has caused, it is imperative that he be removed from office and indicted as soon as possible.
The Philippines were the only Asian country to vote for Israel’s independence in 1948 and many Jews were sheltered in Manila during World War II, therefore it might make sense that Israel would like to strengthen relations with it. However, with Duterte’s record of extrajudicial killings, beginning with the Davao Death Squad, first formed when he was mayor of Davao, and culminating in the current drug war, there should not be anyone condoning his activities, especially in helping to aid them. Previously, Duterte has also positively likened his position in the drug war to that of Hitler’s during the Holocaust, noting that he would like to do to drug addicts what Hitler did to the Jewish population. This brings question to why Israel might consider deals with this man. The Philippine president has also encouraged his forces to shoot human rights groups and advocates “if they are obstructing justice,” according to the Human Rights Watch.
It is very obvious that President Duterte is violating a number of human rights and needs to be held accountable. Israel should be imposing sanctions on the Philippines, rather than brokering new deals with it. In addition, there must be a continuation of action from the International Criminal Court and Duterte should be removed from power as soon as possible. The “drug war” is devastating to the citizens of the Philippines, particularly those in lower income urban areas, and the global community needs to collectively take action with sanctions as well in order to force Duterte’s hand, whether it be to stop the killings altogether or to agree to go to court with the ICC. Holding Duterte accountable for his actions and demonstrating that this is not something that will go unnoticed in the world is paramount to ensuring that these calamitous actions are prevented in the future.