Duterte scraps plan to buy US rifles

Move comes after Philippine leader calls an end to US-Philippine war games

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte waves goodbye to Vietnamese fishermen during the send-off ceremony for the Vietnamese fishermen.
Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte waves goodbye to Vietnamese fishermen during the send-off ceremony for the Vietnamese fishermen. PHOTO: EPA

President Rodrigo Duterte has pulled the plug on a planned purchase of 26,000 assault rifles from the United States, the first weapons deal to be scrapped as he continues to bicker with Washington over his controversial anti-crime drive.

However, he said he would ratify a global climate change pact that he had previously dubbed "crazy".

"We will not insist on buying expensive arms from (the US). We can always get them somewhere else. So, forget it. They said it would be arriving in July 2017. I am ordering the police to cancel it," he said yesterday at an event attended by Muslim rebels holding peace talks with the government.

"We will just have to look for another source that is cheaper, maybe as durable and as good as those made from the place we are ordering them," he added.

The US State Department last month halted the planned sale of 26,000 M4 rifles to the Philippine national police, after the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Mr Ben Cardin, said he would oppose it.

In response, an angry Mr Duterte called those behind the move "fools" and "monkeys".

Aides said Mr Cardin was concerned about the rising death toll as Mr Duterte presses on with his bloody war on crime.

More than 2,300 people have been killed in police operations or by suspected vigilantes in relation to Mr Duterte's move since he took office on June 30. He has refused to back down, raining an almost-daily torrent of abuse on the US.

Senator Panfilo Lacson, a former police chief, said that "we do not stand to lose anything except one less gun store to choose from".

Armed forces spokesman Edgard Arevalo said any US arms embargo on the police would not affect the Philippine military. US weapons purchases by the military are guaranteed under the Mutual Defence Treaty that Manila and Washington signed in 1951, he added.

Mr Duterte has ended all US-Philippine war games, and has said he wants to see remaining US troops in the Philippines gone in two years.

But he has so far kept all pending weapons transactions with the US, including deals entered into by former president Benigno Aquino on buying refurbished C-130 transport planes and Coast Guard cutters.

In reversing his stand on the Paris climate change pact, meanwhile, he explained that most of his Cabinet members disagreed with him.

"After so much debate, the climate change (agreement), I will sign it because it was a unanimous vote except for one or two (in Cabinet)."

The Philippines last year signed up with the rest of the world to the pact, which aims to cap global warming at well below 2 deg C, and 1.5 deg C if possible, compared with pre-industrial levels.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 08, 2016, with the headline 'Duterte scraps plan to buy US rifles'. Subscribe