Monday, June 24, 2024

Cambridge will have a chance Aug. 7 to take action against human rights abuses in the Philippines.

Policy Order 129, introduced by councillors Quinton Zondervan and Dennis Carlone, would have the City Council express “enthusiastic support” for The Philippine Human Rights Act, a bill before U.S. Congress ​​​​“to suspend all [military] funding and sales from the United States to the Philippines until such time that the human rights crisis in the Philippines has been properly addressed.” The policy order would put the council on record urging Massachusetts Reps. Katherine Clark and Ayanna Pressley to co-sponsor the PHRA while urging Massachusetts Sens. Ed Markey and Elizabeth Warren to file a companion bill in the U.S. Senate.

Since 2016, the order explains, the Philippines have been “undergoing a national human rights crisis” characterized by extra-judicial killings of more than 30,000 people, “including urban poor, farmers, peasants, indigenous, environmental activists and government critics, and others purported to be involved in drug activity.” These atrocities are “often committed by the Philippine National Police and the Armed Forces of the Philippines, which receive taxpayer-funded financial assistance” from the United States.

The United States has provided the Philippines government with a staggering $1.1 billion in military assistance since 2015. These U.S. taxpayer dollars make it possible for the Philippines to buy the weaponry its police and army use to carry out human rights abuses against its own populace, the Filipino people. By passing the order, we in Cambridge can push our representatives to back the Philippine Human Rights Act and end our financial support for these blatant abuses.

The order would also put the council on record expressing opposition to Israeli weapons company Elbit Systems for supplying the Philippine government with tanks and drones. Elbit has also provided the Philippines with artillery systems and armored personnel carriers, and just this month announced a $114 million deal for the sale of surveillance aircraft to the Philippines. The weapons the Philippines buys from Elbit facilitate its abuses against the Filipino people. Elbit is a global player; Elbit also boasts of providing the U.S. Border Patrol with surveillance towers and drones used to track the movements of immigrants along the U.S.-Mexico border.

In December 2021, Elbit announced the opening of its “Cambridge Innovation Center” at 130 Bishop Allen Drive, Central Square, the company’s first footprint in our city. According to Elbit, the center holds “up to 60 software, mechanical and electrical engineers with stand-up lab space and a virtual reality collaboration area.”

We believe that Cambridge should not support human rights abuses – not here, not in the Philippines, not anywhere. On the one hand, Cambridge proclaims itself to be a “sanctuary city” for immigrants. On the other hand, it welcomes Elbit, a deep-pocketed war profiteer who thrives at the expense of the Filipino people and the same immigrants who are supposed to be protected in our city.

We call on the City Council to stay true to its core values of human rights for all. By passing Policy Order 129, we in Cambridge can make clear that we stand with the people of the Philippines and will not accept the presence of this weapons company complicit in these and other human rights abuses here in our backyard.

Cambridge residents will be able to provide public comment on the order during the council’s special summer meeting at 5:30 p.m. Aug. 7. Comment can be given in-person at 795 Massachusetts Ave., Central Square, and virtually over Zoom. Signup for comment opens at 9 a.m. Aug. 4. Please join us in urging support for the Philippine Human Rights Act and opposing Elbit Systems.

Owen Elrifi and Maritza Soto, Cambridge Democratic Socialists of America