Canada and the Philippines sign defence cooperation agreement despite the killings of human rights defenders

Published by Brent Patterson on

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Photo: Canadian Ambassador David Hartman and Secretary of Defence Gilberto Teodoro signed the Philippines Canada Defence Cooperation Memorandum of Understanding in Manila (National Capital Region) on January 19, 2024.

Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have both documented in their annual reports multiple human rights concerns in the Philippines including extrajudicial killings, attacks against political activists and journalists.

Human Rights Watch has noted: “Incidents of ‘red-tagging’ by the authorities and government supporters and pro-government media continued [in 2023]. Getting red-tagged is often a prelude to physical attack, raising fears among activists and constricting democratic space. Government actors have red-tagged activists, unionists, environment defenders, Indigenous leaders, teachers, students, and journalists.”

Amnesty International provides the example of Silvestre Fortades and Rose Maria Galias, “both members of a ‘red-tagged’ farmers’ and labour rights organization” who were shot dead on January 15, 2022. The Business & Human Rights Resource Centre further notes that Fortades and Galias were “killed by suspected military agents” likely because “of their resistance against large-scale landlords and their demands of democratic reforms, better wages and working conditions, end of extortionate loans, and the right to land.”

Global Witness includes Fortades and Galias in their list of the 11 human rights defenders killed in the Philippines in 2022. The Philippines had the highest number of defenders killed that year following Colombia, Brazil, Mexico and Honduras.

Now, Radio Canada International reports: “Canadian ambassador to the Philippines David Hartman and Secretary of the Philippine Department of National Defense Gilberto Teodoro signed the Philippines Canada Defence Cooperation Memorandum of Understanding” on Friday January 19 in Manila.

Interoperability in the South China Sea

That RCI article adds: “The agreement is part of Canada’s Indo-Pacific Strategy to expand its presence in the Philippines and the Indo-Pacific region.”

Reuters also provides the context likely within Canada’s Indo-Pacific Strategy that: “Canada has supported the Philippines in the face of China’s increased assertiveness in the South China Sea, backing a 2016 ruling by the Permanent Court of Arbitration that said China’s South China Sea claims had no legal basis. China rejects that finding.”

CNBC has previously reported: “According to the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development, an estimated $3.37 trillion worth, or 21 per cent of all global trade, transited through the South China Sea in 2016.”

Late last year, Ambassador Hartman highlighted the possibility of broadening the scale of interoperability between the Philippine Navy and the Royal Canadian Navy.

Mining critical minerals

Rappler, the Philippines’ leading digital media company, adds: “Hartman [has also] emphasized Canada’s interest in critical minerals.”

It quotes the Ambassador saying: “One of the areas that we’re really quite keen to pursue with the government of the Philippines, the people of the Philippines, is the area of critical minerals…. The Philippines is the fifth most mineralized country on Earth. The crass reality is we cannot have a clean energy, a green energy transition without critical minerals.”

The Ambassador further explains in the Rappler article: “The candid reality is that the global community needs the Philippines. What Canada wants to be able to do is to be able to help the Philippines extract its mineral wealth responsibly, ethically, and in an environmentally sustainable and sound manner. Canada has a tremendous track record of being able to do that for ourselves back home.”

Increasing military exports to the Philippines

Canada has approved the export of just over $13.5 million in “military goods” to the Philippines over the past 10+ years: $385,000.00 (2022); $399.95 (2021); $18,100.00 (2020); $458.00 (2019); $175,497.00 (2018); $3,219.78 (2017); $6,050,640.67 (2016); $192,490 (2015); $2,190,000 (2014); $1,226,392 (2013); $3,268,594 (2012).

Several years ago, the National Post reported: “The Ottawa-based CCC [Canadian Commercial Corporation], which helps Canadian exporters get contracts with foreign governments, came under fire in February 2018 after the media learned the corporation had brokered a $234-million deal to sell 16 Bell 412 helicopters to the military of the Philippines.”

Alex Neve, then the secretary general of Amnesty International Canada, commented: “When the Canadian Commercial Corporation is involved in arms deals there often seems to be a lack of rigour when it comes to human rights concerns.”

The Philippines later cancelled the planned purchase, but the Canadian government may be hoping that with the Defence Cooperation MOU in place and thoughts of interoperability that arms exports could increase.

Marcos to visit Canada this year

It is also being reported that the Canadian government is hoping to host a visit by President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. in late-2024.

We continue to follow this.

Further reading: Philippines delegation invited to CANSEC even after President threatens to throw people out of helicopter (May 28, 2023)

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