US gave Philippines record $184m in annual defence aid

Biggest sum in 15 years agreed on during Obama's visit amid South China Sea tensions

MANILA • The United States provided the Philippines with US$127 million (S$184 million) in security assistance in the 12 months ended in September - the biggest sum in about 15 years - even as it received a stream of angry threats from President Rodrigo Duterte to sever their defence alliance.

The US embassy in Manila yesterday confirmed its long-time Asian ally had received a 154 per cent increase in military assistance from the 2014-2015 period, the biggest sum since 2000.

The US fiscal year runs from Oct 1 to Sept 30. The aid boost went mostly into items such as communications equipment, small arms, replacement parts for hardware and coastal radar for maritime security.

The US embassy said the military assistance for the current fiscal year had yet to be finalised. Mr Duterte has spoken positively about President-elect Donald Trump, although his election win last month has not stemmed the flow of Mr Duterte's anti-US rhetoric.

The increased spending was agreed when President Barack Obama visited Manila last year, amid high tension between the Philippines and China in the South China Sea, and was part of a renewed commitment made to Manila in a 2014 Enhanced Defence Cooperation Agreement (EDCA).

Mr Duterte has a strong dislike for Mr Obama and during regular tirades has voiced disdain for EDCA, which allows US forces rotational access to some military bases.

CONCERNED SENATORS

We urge the US to denounce these horrific violations of basic human rights, and ensure that no foreign assistance is being provided to support egregious acts against humanity.

DEMOCRAT SENATORS EDWARD MARKEY AND CHRIS COONS, AND REPUBLICAN MARCO RUBIO, in a letter to the State Department asking for full disclosure by Jan 13 on financial giveaways and assistance to the Philippines.

He has accused the US of hypocrisy and bullying, threatened to rescind EDCA, and doubted it would honour its treaty commitment to defend the Philippines in the event of an attack.

His foreign policy approach has been to court Russia and historic foe China. He said he wants to procure weapons from both countries so that Philippine forces do not have to depend on "hand-me- down" American hardware.

Confirmation of the boost in military aid from about US$50 million annually over the past two fiscal years to US$127.1 million in 2015- 2016 comes amid concerns in Washington not only about Mr Duterte's anti-US stance, but also his bloody war on drugs.

His vitriol against the US started in August and intensified the following month after Mr Obama insisted he would raise his concerns about the drug crackdown directly with Mr Duterte. The meeting was scrapped after Mr Duterte called Mr Obama a "son of a whore".

More than 6,000 people have been killed in the crackdown during his six months as President, one-third by the police, with the rest still being investigated and assumed to be drug-related murders.

Some US legislators are concerned that US aid could in some way be used to support Mr Duterte's war on drugs.

Three members of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations on Thursday issued a letter to the State Department asking for full disclosure by Jan 13 on financial giveaways and assistance to the Philippines.

"We urge the US to denounce these horrific violations of basic human rights, and ensure that no foreign assistance is being provided to support egregious acts against humanity," said Democrat Senators Edward Markey and Chris Coons, and Republican Marco Rubio.

In an e-mail to Reuters, the US embassy broke the 2015-2016 aid down to US$50 million in foreign military financing, US$1.9 million in international military education and training, US$42 million for a maritime security initiative and US$33.2 million for counter-terrorism activities.

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 24, 2016, with the headline 'US gave Philippines record $184m in annual defence aid'. Print Edition | Subscribe