Philippine police are executing people with Israeli weapons

Israel continues to export arms and military training to Rodrigo Duterte’s regime, even after the ICC launched a preliminary investigation to look into suspicions of crimes against humanity there.

By Eitay Mack

Former Philippine National Police Chief and current Senate of the Philippines Ronald dela Rosa seen holding an Israeli-made machine gun. (Courtesy of Philippine National Police)
Former Philippine National Police Chief and current Senate of the Philippines Ronald dela Rosa seen holding an Israeli-made machine gun. (Courtesy of Philippine National Police)

For much of the past two years, Israel has been exporting weapons and military training to the Philippine security forces. As part of President Rodrigo Duterte’s brutal drug war, police officers and masked militiamen have been raiding the country’s poorest neighborhoods, where they execute men and young boys suspected of criminal activities or drug use. Their weapons of choice? Israeli-produced rifles such as the Tavor and the Negev, and handguns such as the Masada.

Since Dutarte was elected president of the Philippines in June 2016, the country’s police force and its various militias have executed at least 12,000 people without trial, according to Human Rights Watch.

Duterte is using the drug war to fortify his rule and justify the weakening of his country’s democratic institutions, which were put in place after the fall of Ferdinand Marcos’ decades-long dictatorship in 1986. Instead of dealing with the Philippines’ real problems, Duterte is choosing to invest the country’s limited resources in tackling the its drug problem in such a way that violates international law and aligns with his election campaign promise to kill 100,000 people in the first six months of his presidency.

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Duterte’s strategy of social engineering and solving political and social problems through mass killings is not new. Neither is the silence of the international community. And yet, one can expect that sooner or later the United Nations will decide that Duterte and his security forces are carrying out gross violations of basic human and civil rights. As early as February 2018, the prosecutor at the International Criminal Court in The Hague announced that she had launched a preliminary examination into whether Duterte was committing crimes against humanity in his drug war.

When he arrived in Israel for an official visit in September 2018, Duterte did something most world leaders wouldn’t: he exposed his host country’s shameful behavior during a formal meeting with Israeli President Reuven Rivlin. As he stood before the president, the Israeli press, and the world, Duterte said that he had instructed his security forces to purchase weapons and military equipment exclusively from Israel — because unlike the U.S., Germany, and even China, Israel has no restrictions on these kinds of transactions.

President of the Philippines Rodrigo Duterte visits the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial Museum in Jerusalem during Duterte’s official visit to Israel, on September 3, 2018. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)
President of the Philippines Rodrigo Duterte visits the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial Museum in Jerusalem during Duterte’s official visit to Israel, on September 3, 2018. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

Although the Netanyahu government insists that it provides legitimate aid to Duterte for issues of national security, the truth is that most of those arms and training are provided to police forces who raid poor neighborhoods, rather than to security forces fighting against insurgent groups such as Islamic State. Yet the success of ISIS militants in taking over a large city in the southern Philippines in May 2017 is a clear sign that Duterte’s security policies are a failure.

This information was published on the official Facebook pages of the Philippine National Police, the Philippine Navy, an arms company in the Philippines that mediates weapons deals with Israel, and in the official documents and publications of the police, the Defense Ministry, and the government’s news agency.

Ronald dela Rosa, a member of the Philippines senate who previously served as the country’s chief of police and who led the drug war, is responsible for the police’s acquisition of Israeli weapons. Dela Rosa recently caused public outcry when he expressed support for the police officers who killed a three-year-old named Myka Ulpina in early July, saying “shit happens.”

The Tel Aviv District Court will hear a petition to stop security exports to the Philippines on September 18.

Eitay Mack is an Israeli human rights lawyer working to stop Israeli military aid to regimes that commit war crimes and crimes against humanity. A version of this article was first published in Hebrew on Local Call. Read it here.