Duterte laments US restrictions on weapon purchases

Manila: President Rodrigo Duterte said that as much as he wants to provide the military with the equipment they need, restrictions by the United States are preventing him from doing so.

Speaking to officials of the armed forces Eastern Mindanao Command on the unit’s founding anniversary on Thursday at the Naval Station Felix Apolinario in Panacan, Davao City, Duterte said the US has rules that prevent its allies from acquiring the weapons that it needs.

“If I decide to buy a dozen F16s, how sure are they that they would deliver it?” the President said as he referred to the single-engine multi-role jet fighters that the US exports to top allies such as Japan, South Korea, Singapore, Nato and allied Middle East countries among others,

The President said the Americans were known for blocking weapons purchases of the Philippines. He cited a case in 2016 when the US State Department stopped the sale of 26,000 assault rifles to the Philippines. In opposing the deal, US Senator Ben Cardin had questioned the country’s record on respect for human rights.

“I’m tired to these restrictions, I feel insulted when even (US President Donald) Trump approves of what I do. ‘Oh, Rodrigo, you are doing it all right. I like your style. I will copy it,’” the Philippine leader said.

The Philippines has been on a weapons acquisition binge in recent years as it face threats from China even as dangers posed by antigovernment groups such as Moro rebels subside. Although it is still confronted by terrorism from Islamic extremists and communist insurgents, the nation is now turning its attention to countering external forces by upgrading its military hardware with big-ticket purchases such as frigates and lead-in-fighter jets such as the F50 from South Korea.

Recently, Defence Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said the country is now on the market for submarines as it is only one of the few countries in Southeast Asia without underwater warfare capabilities.

Duterte said that recently he received a letter signed by US Ambassador Sung Kim, US Secretary of State Michael Pompeo, Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Louis Ross junior and US Secretary of Defence James Norman Mattis.

In that letter, the officials affirmed the US government’s commitment to modernise the Philippine military.

“We are writing you to reaffirm this administration’s strongest support for your efforts to modernise the Armed Forces of the Philippines and our commitment to continue to work with your Congress to support the strategic endeavours, recent decisions to procure and grant upgraded surveillance and aircraft system such as Bell combat utility helicopters and ScanEagle, Gulfstream and Cessna 208 aircraft exemplify our continuing commitment for the breadth and strength of our alliance,” the letter said.

Duterte said the United States “is peerless,” when it comes to supplying “state-of-the-art technology with a proven track record and a long-term reliable partner.”

The Philippine leader said: “I have nothing against America. But what is the reality on the ground? (with regards to weapons purchases buy the Philippines)”

The letter from the US officials came after Lorenzana visited Russia to look for new weaponry.

The Philippines had traditionally sourced it weapons from the United States.

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