MANILA – Senators Panfilo Lacson and Leila de Lima gave different reactions to a report that the US State Department is halting the planned sale of 26,000 assault rifles to the Philippines due to growing human rights concerns over President Duterte’s war on drugs.
Lacson, a former police chief, said the Philippines does not stand to lose anything “except one less gun store to choose from.”
“There are tens of other countries that manufacture better and probably cheaper assault rifles than the US,” Lacson said in a statement.
A Reuters report said the US State Department halted the planned sale of some 26,000 assault rifles to the Philippine National Police after Senator Ben Cardin said he would oppose it.
The relationship between the United States and the Philippines, a long-time ally, has been complicated lately by President Rodrigo Duterte's angry reaction to criticism from Washington of his violent battle to rid the country of illegal drugs.
More than 2,300 people have been killed in police operations or by suspected vigilantes in connection with the anti-narcotics campaign since Duterte took office on June 30. ABS-CBN’s Investigative and Research Group, meanwhile, put the death toll from May 10 to October 28 at 2,236.
The US State Department informs Congress when international weapons sales are in the works. Aides said Foreign Relations committee staff informed State that Cardin would oppose the deal during the department's prenotification process for the sale of 26,000-27,000 assault rifles, stopping the deal.
Lacson said Cardin’s opposition to the rifle sale is “his own opinion and nothing more,” noting that he has “yet to see an investigation with the conclusion that massive and state-sanctioned human rights violations were committed under the present regime's drive against illegal drugs.”
Lacson added that because of the US’ decision, “there is now more reason for our Department of National Defense to revive our self-reliance program so we can produce our own weapons and ammunition and other military hardware.”
De Lima not surprised by halt of US rifle sale
Meanwhile, Senator Leila de Lima said she is no longer surprised that the United States halted its planned sale of assault rifles to the Philippines due to growing human rights concerns over President Duterte’s war on drugs.
De Lima, a staunch critic of the administration, said “such reactions from the US should have been expected from the start of the war on drugs with its accompanying toll of EJKs (extrajudicial killings).”
“Independent of the White House, members of the US Congress can and do block arms sales even to allied countries as a result of poor human rights records or apparent State-tolerated use of violence against the civilian population,” she said in a statement.
Since assuming power, Duterte has signaled a shift in Philippine foreign policy, distancing himself from the US and establishing closer ties with China, the Philippines’ main South China Sea rival.
In setting up an “independent foreign policy” for the Philippines, Duterte said the Philippines can survive without American aid.
Duterte’s anger at the US was largely prompted by Washington’s criticism of his war on drugs and the alleged intrusion of US authorities in the case of Davao bombing suspect Michael Meiring.
However, De Lima said Duterte’s independent positioning is "hallow and all bluster.”
“It will only lead to our further isolation from and hostility to not only the US but also its allies in the region like Japan, Australia, and South Korea,” she said.
“The question is, how does this deliberate strategy to isolate us from our friends fit a comprehensive foreign policy shift that would somehow benefit us as a nation. We cannot go on telling the US to leave us alone just because we don't want it prying into our human rights records and EJKs.”
De Lima also warned the administration about the consequences of being hostile towards the US, noting that “as the recent visit of the State Department Assistant Secretary for the Pacific has laid out, nobody has yet won against the US in such confrontations.”
“This is just the start of what we will be reaping from the US as result of the isolationist whirlwind this Administration has sown and continue to sow out of an incomprehensible and ridiculous policy shift to anti-Americanism and pro-totalitarian Chinese hegemony in Asia." – with Reuters