‘We can live without’ US aid – Philippines defense minister

A Philippine warship BRP Ramon Alcaraz (PF 16) © Erik De Castro
Philippines Defense Minister Delfin Lorenzana said Manila should “re-assess” its relationship with the US and the benefits of the alliance, while maintaining that the country’s military would survive if Washington were to withdraw its aid.

Lorenzana said that the value of US military aid to Manila is “not that much” and that the country’s military officials could ask the Philippines Congress to make up for a shortfall of $50-$100 million a year in aid from Washington.

“We can live without (that),” Lorenzana told a foreign correspondents’ forum on Friday, Reuters reported.

Lorenzana’s remarks echoed President Rodrigo Duterte’s tough anti-US rhetoric. In response to mounting US and EU criticism of his war on drugs, which has led to over 3,600 deaths at the hands of police, drug gangs, and vigilantes, Duterte said on Thursday that if the US and EU objected to his massive anti-drug warfare and wished to withdraw their aid, they should do so, insisting that Filipinos are not “mendicants.

“I do not expect the human rights [groups], I do not expect Obama, I do not expect the EU to understand me,” Duterte stated. “Do not understand me. And if you think it’s high time for you guys to withdraw your assistance, go ahead. We will not beg for it.”

In response, US State Department spokesman John Kirby said that total US assistance to the Philippines in the fiscal year that began on October 1 was $180 million “and we’re committed” to delivering that.

According to Lorenzana, Duterte’s current objective is to cut dependency on Washington, though the defense minister confirmed that there had been no official directive to cancel a two-year-old Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement with the US, insisting that US-Philippines relations were “just going through these bumps on the road.”

“Maybe we should re-assess [the relationship],” Lorenzana went on to say. “Are we benefiting, are we getting what we should be getting from alliance? It is part of this growing up.”

On Monday, the outspoken Philippine president said his US counterpart, whom he has previously publicly called a “son-of-a-b***h,” should simply “go to hell.”

Duterte made waves last week by declaring that the joint US-Philippines military exercises in early October would be “the last one,” citing possible tensions with China.

In turn, Duterte’s top diplomat, Perfecto Yasay, said that the US has never fully respected the Philippines’ independence.
“The United States held on to invisible chains that reined us in towards dependency and submission as little brown brothers not capable of true independence and freedom,” Foreign Secretary Perfecto Yasay said in statement, entitled “America has failed us.”

“Breaking away from the shackling dependency of the Philippines to effectively address both internal and external security threats has become imperative in putting an end to our nation’s subservience to United States’ interests,” he continued.

The Philippines is a crucial American ally in South East Asia, serving as a guard against Chinese influence. However, relations between the two countries have deteriorated under Duterte, who has bristled under international criticism over his large-scale anti-drug campaign.

The strain in US-Philippines relations has called into question the Obama administration’s planned ‘pivot to Asia,’ as Duterte has threatened to leave the UN completely and form a rival organization with China and other countries. China and the Philippines also have a tense relationship due to disagreements on sovereignty over parts of the South China Sea.