Two congressmen from the United States expressed their objections to the possible return of the historic Balangiga bells to the Philippines, citing the alleged massive human rights violations of the latter country’s anti-illegal drugs campaign.
In a letter, Reps. Randy Hultgren (R-Illinois) and James McGovern (D-Massachusetts) had asked U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis to “not provide certification” for the bells’ return until the Philippine government stops the drug war-linked killings.
Hultgren and McGovern—co-chairs of the House of Representatives’ Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission (TLHRC)—expressed their “deepest concerns with the human rights record” in the Philippines.
“It is precisely because the Philippines is such a strong and vital American ally that we must consider how their recent human rights record could negatively affect U.S. security… We believe that human rights are inextricably linked to the national security interests of the United States,” they wrote.
They cited a report from a 2017 TLHRC hearing last year, which found out that more than 7,000 alleged drug dealers and users have been killed without charges or trial since Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte launched his war on drugs.
While saying that they “recognize and appreciate” the efforts to “resolve in an appropriate way a long-standing, highly symbolic dispute” between the U.S. and the Philippines, Hultgren and McGovern asked Mattis to take the alleged human rights violations in the Philippines into consideration.
Under Sec. 2864 of the Conference Report, which accompanies the National Defense Authorization Act of 2018, the transfer of Balangiga bells to the Philippines will be allowed under several criteria, among of which include “that the transfer is in the national security interests of the United States.”
“We only ask that when you consider Congress’ intent in determining whether such a return meets the United States’ national security interests, you recognize that these extra-judicial killings are a detriment to our security interests,” said Hultgren and McGovern.
The Duterte administration has maintained that it does not condone abuses and state-sanctioned killings.
Latest data from the Philippine government showed that there were 6,309 drug-related deaths from July 1, 2016 to January 17, 2018—among of which 2,235 were homicide cases under investigation.
In December last year, U.S. Ambassador Sung Kim said Washington remains committed to reaching a resolution that would allow the return of the Balangiga bells.
Duterte, during his second State of the Nation Address (SONA) in July 2017, demanded the return the church bells, which were taken from the town of Balangiga, Eastern Samar during the Philippine-American war in 1900s.