US stops arms sale to Philippines
Deal opposed by US senator over HR concerns
WASHINGTON – The US State Department halted the planned sale of some 26,000 assault rifles to the Philippines’ national police after Sen. Ben Cardin said he would oppose it, Senate aides told Reuters on Monday.
Aides said Cardin, the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, was reluctant for the United States to provide the weapons given concerns about human rights violations in the Philippines.
The relationship between the United States and the Philippines, a long-time ally, has been complicated lately by President Duterte’s angry reaction to criticism from Washington of his violent battle to rid the country of illegal drugs.
More than 2,300 people have been killed in police operations or by suspected vigilantes in connection with the anti-narcotics campaign since Duterte took office on June 30.
The US State Department informs Congress when international weapons sales are in the works. Aides said Foreign Relations committee staff informed State that Cardin would oppose the deal during the department’s pre-notification process for the sale of 26,000 to 27,000 assault rifles, stopping the deal.
State Department officials did not comment.
Earlier this month, Duterte told US President Barack Obama to “go to hell” and said the United States had refused to sell some weapons to his country, but he did not care because Russia and China were willing suppliers.
According to some US officials, Washington has been doing its best to ignore Duterte’s rhetoric and not provide him with a pretext for more outbursts.
An open break with Manila could create problems for the United States in a region where China’s influence has grown.
US decision to benefit small manufacturers
Local medium and small arms manufacturers, as well as those from abroad, stand to benefit from the decision of the US government to cancel the sale of assault rifles to the Philippine National Police (PNP).
The US State Department halted the planned sale of some 26,000 assault rifles to the PNP after Cardin expressed concerns over human rights violations in the Philippines.
“The US State Department decision now presents a chance for the Philippines to start growing or building up its own local defense industry. It’s not really economically profitable so it needs huge support from the government,” a security observer said.
He also said the US action only proved the Philippines can’t always rely on its long-time ally.
He said the country needs to start scouting for other defense suppliers of these light weapons while infusing funds to support the local arms and defense manufacturers so the industry can look forward to eventually supplying the weapons needed not only by the PNP but also by the military.
Malacañang said it would let the PNP handle the issue as it stressed that the country can buy rifles from other sources.
“It is an issue between the US State Department and Sen. Ben Cardin. I will have to talk to the PNP and find out their next move,” Presidential Communications Secretary Martin Andanar said.
“In any case, I am sure our government can procure somewhere else,” he added.
The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) said the Philippine government has not been notified officially by the US on its plans to halt the sale of weapons.
“We can’t comment as we have not been notified officially by the US government on the matter,” DFA spokesman Charles Jose said.
National security adviser Hermogenes Esperon Jr. said he would just let the PNP issue a comment on the matter.
PNP spokesman Senior Supt. Dionardo Carlos said PNP chief Director General Ronald dela Rosa was saddened by the US decision.
Carlos said the PNP’s procurement of the assault rifles has already undergone purchase proceedings and it has been awarded to a winning bidder.
If the procurement will not push through, the PNP will look for suppliers from other countries where it can acquire the US-made Sig Sauer M4 assault rifles.
Carlos, however, clarified a notice of cancellation from the winning bidder or a communication to this effect from the US has not been forwarded to the PNP.
“There’s no official notice yet from the supplier or from the US. The chief PNP is just reacting to the report,” he said.
Late last month, the San Francisco Police Department announced it would cut off training ties with Filipino policemen amid suspicions of their involvement in the summary killings of suspected drug personalities and violations of human rights.
Dela Rosa admitted this would impact the country’s police capability buildup in the sense that the PNP is losing the opportunity to train with their US counterparts.
At present, the PNP’s elite unit, the Special Action Force (SAF), is equipped with foreign-made weapons, mostly US-made.
A security expert stressed local arms manufacturers should now be given the chance to grow with the full support of the government.
Another security observer pointed out that rejection of arms export is not uncommon worldwide, specifically when human rights issues have become a paramount global concern.
“Seeing how President Duterte’s war on drugs is drawing world attention, this rejection of the US Senate is not actually surprising,” he said.
Sen. Panfilo Lacson agreed the Philippines could easily buy its weapons from other sources.
“Since it’s a planned sale of assault rifles by the US to the Philippines, we do not stand to lose anything except one less gun store to choose from. There are tens of other countries that manufacture better and probably cheaper assault rifles than the US,” he said.
To use the issue of human rights violations, specifically the alleged extrajudicial killings in the country, as reason for halting the sale of weapons, Lacson said, was unfair, considering such claims have not been substantiated.
“First, I have yet to see an investigation with the conclusion that massive and state-sanctioned human rights violations were committed under the present regime’s drive against illegal drugs, so I would take US Sen. (Ben) Cardin’s statement as his own opinion and nothing more,” Lacson said.
Lacson said the Department of National Defense should take this report as another reason to revive the country’s self-reliance program so that the country could start producing its own weapons, ammunition and other military hardware.
Sens. Vicente Sotto III and Joseph Victor Ejercito shared the same sentiment, saying there are other sources of weapons for the Philippines other than the US.
“Last year more than 100,000 were killed in the Mexican drug wars. Did they (US) say anything? Here we have just over 1,000 and they are saying so much. They should just continue selling to the extremists if they don’t want to sell to us,” Sotto said.
Ejercito said the US move would be an opportunity for the Philippine government to be more resourceful.
“There will be other opportunities, the US does not have the monopoly of good firearms manufacturers. The PNP can now look at Israeli, Austrian or German-made high powered rifles which are even more superior and cheaper,” Ejercito said.
Sen. Alan Peter Cayetano and Ejercito said the halt in the arms sales was a result of the efforts to destroy Duterte using the international media.
Cayetano said some members of the US Congress and diplomats have been reacting based on so-called news reports “and their facts are all wrong.”
“Let me humbly advice them to get their facts straight first rather than be embarrassed internationally for again acting on false information,” he said.
Cayetano also pointed out the human rights issues are local issues getting prominence in the coming US presidential elections and putting pressure on politicians and State Department officials.
“Precisely developments like this prove President Duterte’s point, that we need to be independent. Some countries really tie their support to their strategic interest and local politics. Thus, we shouldn’t be aligned only to one country and their interest. I will not rule out geopolitics consideration disguised in human rights issues,” he said.
Ejercito warned the US is showing it is not taking to the new independent policy stance of Duterte. He added the US was flexing its muscles to show its power and superiority.
A lawmaker ally of Duterte, on the other hand, proposed to get even with the Americans by dropping their visa-free entry to the Philippines.
Since 779,217 Americans visited Manila in 2015, charging them $160 each (or P7,680) – the same amount the US requires Filipinos to pay – could easily mean $125 million (or P6 billion) more for government coffers every year, Surigao del Sur Rep. Johnny Pimentel said.
“We could use some of the P6-billion annual income to employ a large number of young Filipinos as vice consuls, and deploy them to Philippine consular offices in the US, so they can process the Philippine visa applications of American citizens,” he suggested.
Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez also supported Duterte’s call for “reciprocity” in visa requirements.
They had it coming
Sen. Leila de Lima, on the other hand, said such reactions from the US should have been expected.
De Lima said the halt in the sale of assault rifles to the PNP was just the start of the US and international backlash on what she called Duterte’s isolationist and anti-human rights policies.
She pointed out US legislators have long been known to intervene in the sale of arms to allied countries that have poor human rights records or apparent state-tolerated use of violence against the civilian population.
“The Duterte administration saw this coming and of course was most probably indifferent to its consequences as its social media support groups and fake news sites will now drum this up as an opportunity to be independent of the US, and its support weapons supplies and technology,” De Lima said.
“This so-called independent positioning is hollow and all bluster. It will only lead to our further isolation from and hostility to not only the US but also its allies in the region … We cannot go on telling the US to leave us alone just because we don’t want it prying into our human rights records and extrajudicial killings. Sooner or later something has to give,” she said.
De Lima warned nobody has won against the US in such confrontations on human rights. – Jaime Laude, Alexis Romero, Marvin Sy, Paolo Romero, Delon Porcalla, Pia Lee-Brago
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