President Rodrigo Duterte’s “independent” foreign policy has been off to a slam-bang start, apparently rubbing it in on its major ally, the world’s only remaining superpower, the United States.
On Wednesday, he announced that the Philippines is considering buying military equipment from China and Russia, ostensibly to improve the country’s capability to address insurgency and terrorism.
The announcement came on the heels of the President’s statement that he wanted US troops pulled out of Mindanao, citing the constitutional prohibition on physical presence of foreign armed forces on Philippine soil.
Both of his moves were taken right after he introduced himself to the world last week at an Asean summit in Vientiane, where he was reported to have harangued US President Barack Obama for his purported plan to discuss with him at a supposed meeting the issue of alleged extrajudicial killings in the Philippines under his administration.
The planned purchase of guns and other materiel made in China and Russia is “in the pipeline” and, according to the Philippine President himself, “offers are coming in.”
The disclosures must have taken Obama aback, the US having been the traditional source of firearms and
other weapons of war since the Philippines won independence from its American colonizers in 1898.
What Washington has been giving the Philippines in the last 118 years, however, were hand-me-downs, ranging from refurbished guns to retrofitted boats that have proved largely ineffective against communist and Muslim insurgents and, lately, terrorist groups.
If the military aid had been potent and abundant enough, it would have probably obliterated by now the rebellions mounted by the New People’s Army (NPA), the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF), the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG), which have been waged for decades, costing thousands of lives and interrupting sustainable social and economic progress in the southern Philippines.
Failure of more recent administrations to even contain at manageable levels these Maoist and Islamic uprisings can be traced to inferior ammunition reportedly misfiring or jamming during clashes with NPA rebels, MNLF and MILF separatists and ASG jihadists.
Poised to put its money where its mouth is, the Duterte administration appears to be exploring politically designed options that past governments had not tried.
President Duterte said he was ready to pay good money for superior merchandise. He had also said he would take some military equipment offered free of charge.
According to him, the days of the lowest bid are over because settling for the cheapest is a wrong exercise in frugality that could have lethal consequences for soldiers in the battlefield.
China and Russia supposedly are reputable makers of guns and other equipment but these A-1 weapons of war are known to come at unbelievable prices.
Duterte, however, had indicated that money is no object where lasting peace in the land and security of his people are at stake.
Also appearing to further demonstrate a we-are-not-your-small-brown-brother stance, unmindful that it would ruffle American feathers, the President one-upped Obama by glossing over a maritime dispute between the Philippines and China over the South China Sea in his decision to buy guns Chinese and Russian.
With Russia, Duterte seemed not to have taken issue with what the United States dislikes about Moscow, from
its alleged annexation of Crimea to its own “extrajudicial killings” of journalists and other “dissidents.”
The Philippine President seems to be of the type who does not mix business and politics, but Beijing and Moscow may just drink to whatever deal he calls a toast for.
The US, meanwhile, may already have a hangover from the surprise jab thrown by Duterte before it is even able to lift the first glass.