PRESIDENT Rodrigo Duterte said the Philippines is considering buying military equipment from China and Russia, vowing to modernize the Armed Forces to improve its capability to address insurgency and terrorism.
Duterte signalled a desire for less dependence on military assistance from the United States before Philippine Air Force personnel at Villamor Air Base in Pasay City on Tuesday evening, disclosing that possible deals with Russia and China were “in the pipeline” and that “offers are coming in.”
Duterte said he had directed Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana to join technical staff of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) in visits to Russia and China to “see what is best.”
“I am committed to your modernization and you will get it,” the President said. “The offers are coming in and I hope I would not disappoint anybody there.”
The President said Russia and China had offered the Philippines soft loans for the purchase of military equipment.
He did not say when the offers were made but Duterte met with Chinese and Russian officials last week in Laos during the Association of Southeast Asian Nations summits.
“Two countries have agreed to give me the softest loan. It will be payable in 2025,” Duterte said.
The President said he told the two countries he preferred equipment that could be used to fight insurgency and terrorism, particularly in Mindanao.
“I told them I want weaponries and armaments, I don’t need jets, the F-16s, that’s of no use to us. We don’t intend to fight any country using that,” Duterte said.
The Philippines has traditionally leaned on the United States, its long-time treaty ally, and other Western countries for its security needs.
The US had offered F-16 jets to the Philippines, and had provided two warships, Alcaraz and Del Pilar.
But Duterte said he would rather have “propeller-driven planes” as well as “short-run bombers.”
In his speech, he said he would only allow the “government-to-government” purchase of equipment and deals, with “no strings attached.”
The country has no defense agreements with Russia and China. The latter is in the middle of a maritime dispute with the Philippines over the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea).
No more joint patrols
Amid the sea dispute, the President announced that the Philippines will no longer join expeditions and patrols with the US and other countries to avoid getting into conflict with other nations.
“We will not join any expedition of patrolling the seas. I will not allow it because I do not want my country to be involved in a hostile act,” he said.
“The point is I do not want to ride gung-ho style there with China or with America… We do not go into a patrol or join any other army from now because I do not want trouble,” Duterte added.
Duterte admitted this could be misconstrued as cutting military alliances with other countries, but the President said he was merely pursuing a more “independent posture, an independent foreign policy.”
“I am not anti-American. I said, we are not severing our ties, military ties … Who am I to abrogate a treaty?” he said.
Reacting to Duterte’s statements, former Philippine ambassador to the US Jose Cuisia warned that the President’s tirades could have a “deep impact if it continues in the next few years.”
Cuisia also said equipment from other nations such as Russia and China should be compatible with US equipment.
“If Duterte wants to buy military equipment from China and Russia, he should think about interoperability with US equipment,” Cuisia said.
“We should keep in mind that the US has been a valuable partner of the Philippines. They provided us cutter [ships], radio equipment to allow better monitoring in the West Philippine Sea. We also have many [workers]in the US,” he added.
Cuisia disagreed with Duterte that joint maritime patrols are a hostile act. “Many countries do joint patrols,” he said.
The former ambassador also criticized Duterte for calling for the removal of US Special Forces in Mindanao, claiming these troops help the AFP in its intensified operations against the Abu Sayyaf terror and kidnapping group.
“You have to keep in mind that it’s these US troops who help the military go after the Abu Sayyaf,” Cuisia said.