MANILA, Philippines – If they won’t sell assault rifles to the Philippines, the nation can still fight criminals with air guns and fists.
President Duterte yesterday shrugged off threats that the United States would stop the sale of assault rifles to the Philippine National Police (PNP), saying there are other sources in the market.
Duterte, who has displayed animosity toward the US because of its criticisms of his brutal war on drugs, dismissed Washington’s reported refusal to sell rifles as a mere scare tactic.
“Is that it? What? They are not selling us arms? That’s their only way to scare me? That they won’t sell firearms? We have several air guns here,” Duterte remarked.
PNP chief Director General Ronald dela Rosa also downplayed the US embargo on selling firearms to the Philippine police.
Dela Rosa said the PNP would continue its war against illegal drugs and criminality even if it meant coming to blows with drug lords after police have fired their last bullet.
“It will not affect our anti-drug campaign. Your policemen, without guns and bullets, will be engaging drug lords in fistfights or in hand-to-hand combat in order to finish our war against illegal drugs,” he said.
Dela Rosa though admitted the US embargo will have an impact on the government’s counterterrorism campaign, as the PNP intends to equip all its elite police units with the more sophisticated M4 assault rifles.
On the part of the military, the US embargo on the PNP will not affect the country’s external defense, according to Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) public affairs chief Col. Edgard Arevalo.
“Our procurement weapons and equipment are being done through Foreign Military Sales (FMS),” Arevalo said.
He explained the FMS is covered by the Mutual Defense Treaty (MDT) and as long as the defense treaty is in effect, the AFP can procure weapons from the US.
“The FMS is tied with the MDT which is in effect up to now,” Arevalo said.
Duterte said he will consider continuing acquiring weapons and defense equipment from the US if the military recommends it, despite the offers from China and Russia.
Duterte said he has asked Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana and military officials to travel to China and Russia to check what they have to offer, but added that the military’s recommendation will be crucial.
He said, “If you want to stick with America, fine,” but added that he told the AFP to consider Washington’s critical stance against him.
The US State Department halted the planned sale of some 26,000 M4 assault rifles to the PNP after a US lawmaker, Sen. Ben Cardin, expressed concern over human rights violations in the Philippines.
The Duterte administration has been accused of committing human rights violations in its campaign against drugs, which has so far left more than 3,000 drug offenders dead.
The US, the Philippines’ longtime ally and treaty partner, has expressed concern over the killings, a move that Duterte viewed as interference in domestic affairs.
Last month, Duterte declared that he was “separating” from the US in terms of the economy and security, but later clarified there was no severance of diplomatic ties with the superpower.
Officials said Duterte was merely emphasizing the need for the Philippines to pursue a foreign policy more independent from the US.
Duterte said he sees no problem with the issue since the country can always buy its weapons anywhere, not just from the US.
Besides, the Philippines could always turn to other nations such as Russia and China for such needs in assault rifles and other weapons, even missiles.
“Remember what the Russian diplomat said? Come to Russia. We have anything you need,” Duterte told reporters late Tuesday.
Duterte mentioned his meeting with Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev during the ASEAN Leaders Summit in Laos last September.
Duterte said Medvedev indicated that Russia was ready to help. He said he is planning to visit Russia upon the invitation of Medvedev.
He added China is also offering to sell weapons and materiel to the Philippines. “Even China is open… anything you want. They even sent us a brochure,” he said.
Lawmakers said the planned US embargo on weapons sales to the Philippines would be an opportunity for the country to look for better sources.
“It is a wake-up call for us to stop totally relying on foreign suppliers. This is another kind of pivot we need. To tap our domestic industries for the equipment needs of our policemen and soldiers,” Sen. Ralph Recto said.
Sen. Miguel Zubiri added there are plenty of other suppliers such as Israel and Russia, which have both been manufacturing and exporting reliable weapons.
Zubiri said it was unfair for the US to blame the Philippine government for extrajudicial killings in the absence of any proof.
Sen. Panfilo Lacson said the planned embargo “was not a scare tactic but a bully attitude towards a longtime ally.”
He said the move was “not fair” as the Philippines is an equally sovereign state.
“Prudence dictates that the US State Department should first show a conclusive investigation that affirms what Sen. Benjamin Cardin has alleged before issuing a statement banning the sale of assault rifles to our uniformed services,” Lacson said.
Lacson said the government should jumpstart the PNP’s Capability Enhancement Program (CEP) and start shopping in other territories for their armament requirements.
“There are other sources like Israel, Belgium, even Russia and China,” Lacson said.
Sen. Joseph Victor Ejercito lamented that after decades being trumpeted by the US as its most trusted ally in the region, the Philippines has one of the weakest armed forces.
Just because President Duterte announced an independent foreign policy, the US stopped its arms sales to the Philippines.
“That is not how to treat a very loyal ally,” Ejercito said.
Sen. Sherwin Gatchalian believes the US State Department has exceeded its mandate by halting the arms sale based on pure speculation.
He said the US State Department should have waited first for the results of the probe by international bodies on extrajudicial killings in the country.
Gatchalian also prodded the PNP to speed up its probe into cases of extrajudicial killings.
National Capital Region Police Office (NCRPO) director Chief Supt. Oscar Albayalde said the PNP could purchase its firearms in the local market.
He said the PNP can even boost the economy by purchasing firearms from local gun manufacturers.
The Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) denounced the US for being hypocritical in invoking concern over human rights violations in stopping the sale of firearms to the PNP.
“The cancellation of the weapons sale to the PNP is a clear rebuke by the US government against the Duterte regime which has increasingly asserted its independence from US dictates and has stood firmly against continuing US military presence in the country,” the CPP said.
But “it is a good thing” that the US cancelled its arms sale to the PNP, it said.
The cancellation of the US of its sale of assault rifles to the PNP “is a great opportunity for the PNP to rethink and repudiate the militarization of police work, something which the US police forces have done and which is now being thrust on the local police forces,” the CPP said. – With Edith Regalado, Marvin Sy, Paolo Romero, Artemio Dumlao, Robertzon Ramirez, AP