MANILA, Philippines – An Israeli court banned media coverage of its hearings on a petition to block Israeli arms sales to the Philippines, which follows an apparent trend of media silence on Israel’s weapons deals with “repressive regimes,” according to a report by the Israel-based investigative magazine The Seventh Eye, republished by its English-language counterpart, +972 Magazine.
The petitioners, led by Israeli human rights lawyer Eitay Mack, wanted Israel to stop supplying arms to the administration of President Rodrigo Duterte, whom they accused of mass atrocities as well as grave violations of human rights and international law in his war on drugs and campaigns against insurgents.
On September 19, Judge Gilia Ravid of the Tel Aviv District Court ruled in favor of the state to hold the hearings entirely in chambers, or excluding media and all spectators, primarily because the case involved classified material that needed to be discussed privately. Although the petitioners said arguments involving unclassified matters could be done publicly, the state insisted that the resulting coverage would be distorted and should altogether be prohibited.
“Israeli media tends not to report on any aspect of weapons sales to repressive regimes,” the report said.
“The current president of the Philippines, Rodrigo Duterte, is a mass murderer who condones rape, shooting women in the genitals, and blowing up schools for indigenous minorities,” the petitioners wrote in their pleading. They cited a 2018 Human Rights Watch report that some 12,000 people have been killed in the drug war. The death toll has since risen to over 20,000 according to rights groups.
The Duterte government has denied these accusations, saying it's been waging a legitimate war on illegal drugs and that most of the victims were killed while resisting arrest.
Duterte has also repeatedly said he preferred Israel as a source of weapons and military assets.
“My orders to my military is that in terms of military equipment, particularly intelligence gathering, we only have one country to buy it from them. That is my order specifically, Israel,” he said during his visit to Israel in September 2018.
The Israelis did not attach conditions to the arms sales, and they wouldn’t spy on Filipinos, said Duterte, who bristles at criticism of his human rights record.
Early in Duterte’s term, the US withheld an arms sale to the Philippine National Police (PNP) after a senator questioned the drug war, which the PNP operated. That further riled up Duterte's sour view of the US.
Meanwhile, the Philippines’ arms purchases from Israel increased significantly under Duterte.
From $6 million in 2015, equipment purchases from Israel rose to $21 million in 2017, with sales of radar and anti-tank weaponry.
In February 2018, the PNP showcased its 7.62mm Negev light machine guns from Israel among its brand new assets.
Meanwhile, in a budget hearing at the Senate on September 30 this year, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said the military had acquired two unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV), or drones, from Israel.
Two Hermes 450 UAVs were delivered to the Philippines last August, and more deliveries are expected this year, the defense chief said, including 530 small drones for the Philippine Army’s tactical units.
While the Philippines is increasingly becoming a lucrative market for Israeli equipment, the petitioners who wanted to halt the arms sales said it should be a matter of conscience.
“Beyond the question of the legality of exporting Israeli weapons to the Philippines, there are the matters of ethics and intelligence. [Philippine] state security forces armed with Israeli weapons are carrying out mass executions of civilians living in impoverished slums, and this is unacceptable,” they said. – Rappler.com
JC Gotinga often reports about the West Philippine Sea, the communist insurgency, and terrorism as he covers national defense and security for Rappler. He enjoys telling stories about his hometown, Pasig City. JC has worked with Al Jazeera, CNN Philippines, News5, and CBN Asia.