THE strained relations between the Philippines and the United States became evident when Washington terminated its plan to sell firearms to Manila.
A Reuters report said Sen. Ben Cardin, the top Democrat in the Senate foreign relations committee, blocked the deal to sell some 26,000 to 27,000 assault rifles to the Philippine National Police (PNP).
Citing Senate aides, the report added that the official opposed the provision of weapons to the Philippine police because of increasing concerns on human rights violations.
Cardin and Sen. Patrick Leahy earlier said the US Congress will take the policies of President Rodrigo Duterte into account when deciding on the grant of assistance to Manila for the current fiscal year.
The arms deal was halted after the Senate foreign relations committee informed the State Department that Cardin opposed the transaction during the department’s pre-notification process for the sale of weapons.
Duterte had kept up a string of verbal attacks against the US. When he visited China last month, he announced his “separation” from the US.
The President had been criticized by the US and United Nations for his tough anti-drug campaign that had left thousands of drug suspects dead.
Records showed that since July 1, over 4,700 drug suspects have been killed and 1,700 of these were slain during legitimate police operations.
The government, however, maintained that it does not tolerate extrajudicial executions.
The San Francisco Police Department earlier announced that it is ending its 16-year training program with the PNP because of concerns on allegations of civil rights violations in the Philippines.
US law enforcement and intelligence agencies have been providing equipment, training and intelligence to the PNP for years.
Senators, however, were not worried by the decision of the US State department to stop the sale of 26,000 assault rifles to the PNP.
“Since it’s a planned sale of assault rifles by the US to the Philippines, we do not stand to lose anything. There are tens of other countries that manufacture better and probably cheaper assault rifles than the US,” Sen. Panfilo Lacson said in a text message.
Lacson, who heads the Senate Committee on Public Order and Dangerous Drugs, noted that he is yet to see an investigation with the conclusion that massive human rights violations were committed by the police during implementation of an intensified campaign against illegal drugs.
“So I would take US Sen. Cardin’s statement as his own opinion and nothing more,” the senator said.
The State department’s move, according to Lacson, justified the need for the country to revive its self-reliance defense program (SRDP) to enable the Philippines to produce its own military hardware.
The RSDP was implemented during the time of President Ferdinand Marcos through Presidential Decree 415 issued on March 19, 1974.
The main purpose of the proclamation was to enable the Philippines to develop a local defense industry that can supply the materiel requirements of the Defense department.
The program, however, did not take off because the companies that participated allegedly got involved in corruption.
Another plan to revive the SRDP was raised during the administration of President Benigno Aquino 3rd.
“There is now more reason for our Defense department to revive our self-reliance program so we can produce our own weapons and ammunition and other military hardware,” Lacson said.
Senate Majority Floor Leader Vicente Sotto 3rd also was not bothered by the decision of the State department.
Instead, he questioned Washington’s double standard on the human rights issue.
Sotto said more than 1,000 people were killed last year in the Mexican drug wars but the US was silent about it.
“Dito one thousand plus lang ang dami na nilang sinasabi [Here only one thousand plus [were killed]and yet they [US] were saying many things already,” Sotto pointed out.
He said the Philippines can acquire weapons from Israel.
But to Sen. Joseph Victor Ejercito, the US decision to stop the arms sale was a way to show that it is slowly flexing its muscles.
But Ejercito, like Lacson and Sotto, said the country can buy weapons elsewhere.
“There will be other opportunities. The US does not have monopoly of good firearms manufacturers. The PNP can now look at Israelí, Austrian or German made high-powered rifles, which are even superior,” he said in a text message.
Sen. Leila de Lima said the US action was expected.
“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 added.
She maintained that Duterte’s so-called independent positioning is hollow and would only lead to the further isolation of the country from its allies in the region like Japan, Australia and South Korea.