US stopped Philippines rifle sale that senator opposed - sources

Patricia Zengerle, Reuters

Posted at Nov 01 2016 07:19 AM | Updated as of Nov 01 2016 08:42 PM

A member of the Philippine National Police (PNP) stands guard while residents look on near the scene where two suspected drug pushers were killed during a police operation, in metro Manila, Philippines October 8, 2016. Romeo Ranoco, Reuters

WASHINGTON - The U.S. State Department halted the planned sale of some 26,000 assault rifles to the Philippines' national police after Senator Ben Cardin said he would oppose it, Senate aides told Reuters on Monday.

Aides said Cardin, the top Democrat on the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee, was reluctant for the United States to provide the weapons given concerns about human rights violations in the Philippines.

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.

The U.S. 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.

U.S. State Department officials did not comment.

In the Philippines, Presidential Communications Secretary Martin Andanar said the issue was between Cardin and the U.S. government and the Philippines could get arms from other sources.

"I will have to talk to the PNP (Philippine National Police) and find out their next move," Andanar said. "In any case, I am sure our government can procure somewhere else."

In October, Duterte told U.S. President Barack Obama to "go to hell" and said the United States had refused to sell some weapons to his country, but he did not care because Russia and China were willing suppliers.

According to some U.S. officials, Washington has been doing its best to ignore Duterte's rhetoric and not provide him with a pretext for more outbursts.

An open break with the Philippines could create problems for the United States in a region where China's influence has grown.