THE Philippines could always turn to Russia to buy firearms, President Rodrigo Duterte said in shrugging off the United States’ move to suspend the sale of 26,000 assault rifles to local police over human rights concerns.
On Tuesday, Duterte told reporters during a visit to his parents’ tomb at the Davao Public and Roman Catholic Cemetery that it was not necessary for the Philippines to purchase the weapons from the U.S., the Manila Bulletin reported.
Instead, Duterte said the Philippines was willing to bolster ties with Russia on the matter.
“Remember what the Russian diplomat said? Come to Russia. We have everything you need,” Duterte was quoted as saying, referring to a previous engagement with a Russian envoy.
Since taking office in late June, Duterte has locked horns on numerous occasions with the U.S., following the long-time ally’s criticism of his war on narcotics and the thousands of drug suspects killed at the hands of police and vigilante groups. Duterte also recently declared his country’s “separation” from the US as he moved to cement ties with China and establish a more independent foreign policy for the Philippines.
During the ASEAN summit in Laos, Duterte met with Russian Prime Minster Dmitry Medvedev who said Russia was ready to provide assistance to the Southeast Asian country.
On Monday, the U.S. State Department announced the suspension of the planned sale of some 26,000 assault rifles to the Philippine National Police following an objection by U.S. Senator Ben Cardin.
According to Reuters, senatorial aides said Cardin, the top Democrat on the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee, cited human rights violations in the Philippines as the reason for the halt in the sale.
In response, the government and Philippine police expressed disappointment but said they were looking to buy the assault rifles from elsewhere.
Police spokesman Dionardo Carlos was quoted by the news agency as saying that the Philippines had yet to receive any notice on the withdrawal of sale.
Human Rights Watch Asia Division Deputy Director Phelim Kine said the decision to thwart the sale was “well-justified” as the police are deeply implicated in Duterte’s “abusive” war on drugs”.
HRW estimates that some 5,000 Filipinos – mostly drug suspects – have been killed since Duterte was sworn in as president on June 30.
“The State Department’s decision is the first real US move to put teeth in its criticism of the spiraling death toll Duterte’s drug war.
“And it’s hit the police where it hurts: (Police Director-General Ronald) dela Rosa has said it ‘has a huge effect’ on police efforts to expand their arsenal,” Kine said in a statement on Tuesday.
Kine said Duterte and dela Rosa were now aware that the killings carry a cost with their country’s longtime ally.
He added that U.S. funding to the Philippine police, including US$9 million in State Department aid for counter-narcotics and law enforcement programs for 2017, and US$32 million in assistance pledged by US Secretary of State John Kerry in July, may be at risk unless the killings are stopped.