US to provide $180-M aid to Philippines next year

Jose Katigbak - The Philippine Star

WASHINGTON – The United States is committed to providing $180 million in assistance to the Philippines in fiscal year 2017 and routinely vetting the military to ensure security units that violate human rights do not get any aid, State Department spokesman John Kirby said. 

Fiscal year 2017 is from Oct. 1, 2016 to Sept. 30, 2017.

President Duterte, in yet another jab at the US, dared it to end its assistance if it continues to criticize extrajudicial killings in his war against illegal drugs.

Duterte’s rhetoric is at odds with the very close relationship between the two countries, Kirby said.

“We continue to focus on our broad relationship with the Philippines and we’ll work together in the many areas of mutual interest,” he said.

He said Washington is focused on ensuring that assistance efforts truly benefit the people and are compliant with US laws and regulations.

To ensure assistance earmarked for law enforcement is not used in extrajudicial killings, the US government routinely and regularly vet security forces through a process known as “Leahy vetting,” Kirby said.

Under a US human rights law named after its principal sponsor Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont, Washington utilizes the International Vetting and Security Tracking (INVEST) system which tracks all units and individuals who are potential recipients of assistance.

“It’s a law we strongly believe in. And whether it’s in the Philippines or anywhere around the world, that review process is near continuous and it will remain so,” Kirby said.

Asked to comment on Foreign Affairs Secretary Perfecto Yasay’s statement that the United States has failed the Philippines, prompting Duterte to break the country’s “shackling dependency” on its long-time ally, Kirby said it was not useful to parse every bit of rhetoric that comes out of Manila.

“What I can tell you is that in practicality, as you and I talk today, that cooperation continues. Those government contacts continue. The military-to-military relationship remains strong,” Kirby said.

The US takes its treaty alliance with the Philippines seriously and “nothing that we’re seeing today tangibly would change our mind about that,” he added.

Duterte, well known for a ruthless stand against crime from his years as mayor of Davao City, won election in May on a promise to wipe out drugs and drug dealers.

Some 3,600 people have so far been killed in his anti-drugs drive and he has been enraged by questions about human rights, from the US and others, that the bloodshed has raised.

Duterte said on Thursday if the United States and European Union objected to his drug war and wished to withdraw aid, they should do so, and the Philippines would not beg.

US aid ‘not that much’

In Manila, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said yesterday US-Philippines ties are going through “bumps on the road” and the military could manage if the US were to withdraw aid.

The Philippines intended to buy arms from China and Russia and there had been no adverse reaction from within the military to Duterte’s vows to scale back defense ties with the US, he said.

Lorenzana’s remarks suggested he was following other top officials in Duterte’s administration in rallying behind the maverick president’s tough anti-US agenda after weeks of scrambling to manage the fallout from his outbursts and threats to downgrade the alliance.

Lorenzana had on Wednesday set a conciliatory tone, saying Duterte may have been misinformed when he said US-Philippine military exercises were of no benefit to his country.

But yesterday, Lorenzana said the value of US military aid to the Philippines was “not that much,” and the military could ask Congress to make up for a shortfall of some $50 million-$100 million a year in US military aid.

“We can live without (that),” Lorenzana told a foreign correspondents’ forum.

Lorenzana said he believed Duterte’s objective was to diversify the Philippines’ foreign ties and cut dependency on a former colonial ruler.

“The President is trying to develop a relationship with the US that is not too dependent on one country,” he said.

Duterte has caused a diplomatic storm by declaring that joint US-Philippines military exercises would cease, a defense agreement would be reviewed and, at an undisclosed time, he might “break up” with the US.

On Monday, Duterte said US President Barack Obama should “go to hell.”

Lorenzana said there had been no official directive to scrap a two-year-old Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement. He said the uncertainty in the US-Philippines relationship was “just going through these bumps on the road.”

“Maybe we should re-assess (the relationship),” he said. “Are we benefiting, are we getting what we should be getting from the alliance? It is part of this growing up.”

He said Duterte was sensitive to concerns about his drug war and it was likely the President would dial down his rhetoric if questions from the West about human rights stopped.

Asked how changes in the security relationship could impact a strategic US “rebalance” to Asia, he said: “They are not lacking of any place to park their ships if they are no longer allowed to park their ships here.”

He said there may be some issues of compatibility with defense procurements from Russia and China, which were willing to sell to the Philippines.

A Philippine dispute with China over sovereignty in the South China Sea would not impede defense procurements, he said, adding there had been no discussion of the two countries working together militarily.

“All we are thinking now is buying equipment,” he said. “No talks yet about military alliance. Just simple transaction of buying equipment.”

Lorenzana’s show of accord with Duterte’s anti-US stand follows a similar tough line from Foreign Secretary Yasay, who said this week Duterte wanted to liberate the country from a “shackling dependency” on the US.                    


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