The US State Department is keeping mum about an aborted rifle deal with the Philippine National Police amid concerns over alleged human rights violations committed under President Rodrigo Duterte's administration.
John Kirby, spokesperson for the US State Department, told Balitang America the department cannot comment on export license approvals on commercial defense sales.
"The Department is restricted under Federal regulations from commenting on the status of and/or internal deliberations regarding export license approvals of proposed commercial defense sales. We are committed to working closely with Members of Congress to deliver security assistance to our allies and partners worldwide," Kirby said in a statement.
In a press briefing, Kirby said the rifle deal is governed by commercial export license approvals. "They are US commercial sales," he said.
The State Department said that while America is committed to the alliance it has with the Philippines, the US government is deeply concerned with reports of extrajudicial killings under the Duterte administration and wants a probe into these allegations.
Kirby said the US government strongly urges the Philippines to make sure its law enforcement efforts are consistent with its international human rights obligations.
A Reuters report earlier said Senator Ben Cardin, a top Democrat on the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee, objected to the sale of some 26,000 assault rifles to the PNP given concerns about human rights violations in the Philippines.
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.
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.
On Tuesday President Duterte said the US State Department's decision to stop the planned sale of 26,000 firearms to the Philippines is another scare tactic of the US.
Duterte earlier tasked military officials to look into the possible procurement of weapons from Russia and China.
"Remember what the Russian diplomat said? 'Come to Russia. We have here anything you need,'" he said. With Reuters
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