PHILIPPINES is expecting a boost to its military arsenal thanks to China and Russia, according to President Rodrigo Duterte, in yet another sign the Southeast Asian nation may be charting a course away from the United States.
The Filipino leader told members of the Philippine Air Force at the Villamor Air Base in Pasay City yesterday of possible deals with the two nations, saying these were “in the pipeline” and that “offers are coming in”, an ABS-CBN report said.
The president did not, however, discuss details of the so-called deals.
“China said they are worried about me. So they offered to give airplanes,” he was quoted saying.
Duterte added that China’s offer may be because Beijing is “also thinking about the other guy”, referring to the U.S.
But the president later clarified that the Philippines was not cutting military ties with the U.S., with which it has shared a defence treaty since 1951.
“Who am I to [do away with] a treaty,” he said.
But Duterte added that the Philippines will stay “independent” and according to South China Morning Post, confirmed that two countries, which he did not at first identify, have agreed to give the country a 25-year soft loan to buy military equipment.
The report said he later confirmed that Defence Secretary Delfin Lorenzana and “technical people” in the armed forces would pay visits to China and Russia “and see what’s best”.
“If we want to buy from one source, if it’s free, why won’t we take it? Thanks. Here, mayor, we will give you an airplane. I will give that to the Air Force, you should use that,” he was quoted saying in ABS-CBN.
Citing information from the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, SCMP wrote that since 1950, the U.S. has accounted for some 75 percent of the Philippines’ arms import. Russia and China, however, have not supplied the country any weapons during that period.
But arguing his case yesterday, Duterte reportedly said the Philippines needs propeller-driven planes to use against insurgents and terrorists in Mindanao.
He said he wanted to purchase weapons “where they are cheap and where there are no strings attached and it is transparent”.
“I don’t need jets, F-16 – that’s of no use to us. We don’t intend to fight any country,” he was quoted saying in SCMP.
Duterte last week caused a stir at the Asean Summit in Laos when he lashed out at U.S. President Barack Obama ahead of the two leaders’ maiden meeting, calling the latter a “son of a bitch”.
The tough-talking Filipino president later backtracked on his words and expressed regret but then again at a meeting attended by Obama, he launched into a tirade against former colonizers of the Philippines.
On Monday, he ordered all U.S. special forces currently in the Philippines to leave, although the Americans later said they were not informed of this.
Since taking office in June, Duterte has been openly critical of the U.S., putting a strain to ties between the two military allies, at a time when tensions have heightened over China’s claim over most of the waters in the South China Sea.
The president’s recent actions appear to suggest that he is looking to cosy up to China, and move further away from the U.S.
Yesterday, Duterte also said the Philippines would not participate in joint patrols with the U.S. in the South China Sea, saying he did not want to be involved in a “hostile act”, SCMP reported.
“I just want to patrol our territorial waters.”