Philippines President Duterte calls off US rifle deal

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte. © Kim Kyung-Hoon
Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte has canceled the purchase of over 26,000 US rifles for the national police force after reports Washington would be halting the sale over concerns of human rights violations.

"We will not insist on buying expensive arms from the United States. We can always get them somewhere else. I am ordering the police to cancel it. We don't need them," Duterte said in a televised speech on Monday.

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

Last week Reuters reported the US State Department had halted the sale of M4 assault rifles to Philippines police after Democratic Senator Ben Cardin promised to oppose the move. Cardin was concerned about reported human rights violations amid the war on drugs initiated by Duterte in the summer.

The Philippines president slammed the reports, threatening that his government could go to Russia or China for the weapons, and also bad-mouthing the US.

"Look at these monkeys, the 26,000 firearms we wanted to buy, they don't want to sell. Son of a b****, we have many homemade guns here. These American fools," Duterte said during a TV speech last Wednesday.

"Russia, they are inviting us. China also. China is open, anything you want, they sent me a brochure saying we select there, we'll give you,” Duterte said.

The Philippines has been America’s key ally in the region for decades, but relations have turned sour over the battle with illegal drugs, a key issue Duterte pledged to address during his campaign.

According to various estimates, between 2,300 and 4,700 people have been killed in operations by the police and vigilantes recently, causing Senator Cardin to say he would oppose the sale of the US rifles to the Philippines.

Duterte is notorious for his swearing, and the latest incidents come just days after he promised to stop cursing, saying that God had ordered him to do so while the president was on a plane returning from a visit to Japan.

The Philippines leader has in the past called US President Barack Obama “a son of a whore” and demanded that America stop treating the Philippines like “a dog with leash.”

While the US government seems to be doing its best not to react to Duterte’s frequent outbursts, Daniel Wagner, Managing Director of Risk Cooperative believes there is a genuine risk posed to the regional balance of power and US-Philippine relations.

“Well, we need to keep this in perspective, it’s always just a question of a given day and a given week until the latest outrage from Mr. Duterte’s mouth comes, no matter who it’s directed at,” Wagner told RT. “I think the US government has probably said look, we can expect more of this type of thing and we need to just basically roll with the punches.”

“[Duterte’s foreign policy] is certainly a source of concern, not only for the US but it should be a source of concern for Asia more broadly for a very simple reason: Mr. Duterte, whatever his objectives are, he is upending decades of postwar regional security, and this is a concern… China is basically having a free hand in doing more-or-less whatever it wants regardless of any pivot or non-pivot by the US.”