Government News Analysis

Who says it’s a free country?

No surprise that Freedom House – it euphemistically describes itself as “an independent watchdog organization dedicated to the expansion of freedom and democracy around the world” – has dropped the Philippines’ score by two more points in its just-released report, Freedom in the World 2017. No surprise either that it found a little space in that report to take a few swipes at President Rodrigo Duterte.

In its survey of 195 countries and 14 territories, it singled out just 10 as ‘Countries to Watch in 2017’. In real English what that means is: “In these 10 countries freedoms are under the greatest threat this year”. This is what it had to say about the Philippines, which was one of that group.

“After his extrajudicial war on drugs claimed thousands of lives in 2016, President Rodrigo Duterte may continue his extreme policies with strong parliamentary backing”. (The bold type is ours). The only country representing Asia on that ‘Bottom Ten’, the Philippines, apparently “may be approaching [an] important turning point in [its] democratic trajectory, and deserve special scrutiny …”  The plain English for that is: “the Philippines is headed for dictatorship”.

Again, under the section “Silencing critics of arbitrary rule,” the report states: “[Duterte’s] aggressive public admonitions of his critics contributed to a climate of fear among  activists in the country”. They’d be the people, presumably, who are seeking the president’s removal from power either by impeachment or though a coup – though we haven’t detected any “climate of fear,” certainly not from his mainstream media critics who have a go at him, one way and another, on a daily basis.

In “The world at a glance” section, again the Philippines was singled out. This time it was one of 10 (a different 10) of the 209 states surveyed that had been awarded a negative down arrow – “calling attention to developments of major significance”. Here it was placed in the company of war-ravaged South Sudan, virtually a failed state, Mozambique which is embarking on another bloody civil war, and economically crippled Eritrea where 69% of the population lives below the poverty line.

But we’re not entirely sure what an “extrajudicial war” is; or what a judicial one is for that matter. Let’s explain our dilemma. For example, what was America’s involvement in Libya in 2011, which saw its ruler, Muammar Gaddafi, overthrown and then butchered by a savage mob in the street? And was the killing of Gaddafi an extrajudicial execution or was it judicially authorised? We know the US president of the day, Barack Obama, wanted regime change in Libya – as he’d dearly love it in the Philippines; and not for dissimilar reasons. We also know that Freedom House is largely funded by the US State Department through one of its funding operations. So, he who pays the piper …

The point is, despite its claims, there’s nothing independent about this organisation. Far from it, Freedom House is a supporter and promoter of US foreign policy and a harsh critic of countries which Washington disapproves of. In short, it’s the State Department that calls the tune. And that’s certainly the case when the State Department is being run under a Democratic Party president. Freedom House’s tone will definitely change now Donald J. Trump’s in the Oval Office. That we guarantee.

The ‘independent watchdog’ rates countries as either ‘Free’, ‘Partially Free’, or ‘Not Free’. Let’s look at how it judges countries in East and Southeast Asia.

‘Free’ are Japan, South Korea and Taiwan. They’re also all virtual client states of the US. The first two have military partnerships with America, while Taiwan has the added bonus of being a thorn in the side of Washington’s bête noire, China. They also all share a distrust of Beijing.

‘Partially Free’ are Indonesia, Malaysia, Myanmar and the Philippines.  This is Freedom House’s way of describing them as quasi-democratic. As democracies they don’t quite come up to muster in its eyes; they don’t do democracy the Uncle Sam way and put too much store by their individual cultural considerations, making it difficult to impose America’s one-size-fits-all formula. They’re simply not obedient enough to make the ‘Free’ list.

‘Not Free’ are Brunei, Cambodia, China, Laos, Thailand and Vietnam – all countries which, to varying degrees, Washington has a real problem with. Four of these are one-party communist/socialist states; one is an Islamic absolute monarchy that’s embraced Shariah; one is in the hands of a military junta. But conversely, all are extremely wary of the US and its designs for them.

This then isn’t a map of the societies in these countries per se; it’s a political map that perfectly matches the State Department’s view of these countries’ governments. In other words, the closer each is to Washington thinking, the ‘freer’ they’re deemed by Freedom House, and visa versa. Purely and simply, that’s what this report is about.

But Freedom House has always had a skewed view of countries that Washington views as politically or ideologically unsuitable. Russia, for example, in terms of its civil liberties has been bracketed by Freedom House with Yemen – a Shariah state that sanctions killing women for alleged immorality. Stoning them to death – in front of the neighbours if necessary. Take a drink in Yemen and you’ll end up being publicly flogged. You’d’ve more chance of being flogged for not taking a drink in Russia. Also, in Russia you can criticise the president; try that in Yemen.

Interestingly, Freedom House didn’t support the establishment of the International Criminal Court (ICC) – a tribunal based in The Hague to prosecute war crimes, genocide and crimes against humanity. Something like that would seem to be right up its alley; but it wasn’t for one very good reason – the US was opposed to it and never signed up. Freedom House’s objections to the ICC closely mirrored those of Washington. (Even more interestingly, the Russian Federation did join, though it withdrew its membership late last year).

And some times this ‘non-governmental organisation’ gets engaged in the State Department’s more covert work. Around 2004 it administered the Poland-America-Ukraine Cooperation Initiative – a US-funded conduit for promoting Liberal democratisation in the tri-state region. Part of that work involved channeling millions of dollars from the US Agency for International Development (or, USAID) – that’s where Freedom House gets its pay-cheques from – to  Ukrainian political factions.

According to US Congressman, Ron Paul, “much of that money was targeted to assist one particular candidate”. That would amount to influencing the internal affairs of a sovereign state. So that’s how it dedicates itself  “to the expansion of freedom and democracy around the world”.

Meanwhile in 2001, China, Cuba and Sudan all testified before the UN’s Committee on Non-Governmental Organisations that Freedom House was a front for promoting US foreign policy. Cuba charged it with being a Central Intelligence Agency operative that used its NGO status for “politically motivated, interventionist activities”.

In the Philippines’ context, what all this highlights is the depth of the Liberal-Left machine’s determination to maintain the pressure on Duterte and chip away at his policies in the hope of destabilising the country. If Freedom House and the sorority of progressive NGOs to which it belongs can sow enough doubt – while supporting the opposition at the same time – they have a chance of fulfilling the wishes of their political puppet masters back in the District of Columbia.

As most entities with the name Liberal in their title aren’t liberal, and those with Democrat in theirs aren’t democratic, Freedom House has little to do with freedom. In fact, if it was a country, we’d have it in the “Not Free” column.

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