President Rodrigo Duterte said Friday there would be no discussion with high-ranking officials of the United States to buy arms and vehicles from the Philippines’ longtime ally unless the US returns the historic Balangiga bells to the country.
“If they did not return the Balangiga bells, there is nothing to talk about,” the President stressed in a speech to soldiers in Davao City.
He reiterated that the Philippines “would not forget” the massacre committed by American soldiers against Filipinos fighters in Balangiga, a town in Eastern Samar, over a century ago.
“Now you say, ‘Ah, Duterte, that was a long time ago.’ Why? Can the passage of time cure an injustice? Just because it was 100 years [ago] so it is erased? Then, the bells are there. And the memory still haunts everybody here because it was taken with blood and lives of our brothers and sisters,” said the President.
The President made this statement in response to a letter signed by three US officials―Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, Secretary of State Michael Pompeo, and Defense Secretary Jim Mattis―who all want to meet Duterte to discuss the country’s military’s modernization program.
The President read the letter out loud during the 12th anniversary of the Davao-based Armed Forces Eastern Mindanao Command anniversary.
This was after Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana on Thursday confirmed that the Philippines was eyeing to purchase submarines and other weapons from Russia as discussed during his recent visit to the country.
Lorenzana told reporters there were “discussions” with the Russians, “but they know that we are shopping and we have yet to decide where to buy,” noting that South Korea was also a possible supplier.
Duterte, meanwhile, said he is not interested in acquiring M16 rifles from the US, and was more interested in acquiring propeller planes for the anti-insurgency campaign.
In the first place, Duterte said he was unsure US Congress would approve the arms deal to the Philippines.
“How sure are you that I will get what I ordered? If I bought a dozen M16 rifles, will they deliver them?” Duterte asked, directing his questions to Pompeo, Mattis, and Ross.
He reiterated that the country needs more propeller-driven planes for anti-insurgency operations.
“We don’t have any other enemies. NPA [New People’s Army], the ISIS, Abu Sayyaf. We don’t need the M16. And yet they dangled before us after they insulted us,” said Duterte.
“I have said my piece about America. We do not need any M16s. It would be utterly useless to buy it. But I need attack helicopters and small planes for the counterinsurgency,” he ended.
He also revealed that US Ambassador to the Philippines Sung Kim appealed to his office, asking to strengthen the security and trade cooperation between the two countries through talks.
According to Duterte, the American officials highlighted the track record of the US in supplying defense equipment to the Philippines.
“We are writing you to reaffirm this administration’s strongest support for your efforts to modernize the Armed Forces of the Philippines,” they said.
“We know however that our nations can do even more to integrate our economic and security concerns,” the letter stated as read by Duterte.
The US hopes to help the country’s defense through the procurement of Lockheed Martin F-16 multi-role fighter platform and other attack helicopter platform.
“The United States is peerless, unparalleled, a supplier of state-of-the-art technology with a proven track record and a long-term reliable partner,” it added.
Duterte, however, mentioned the three crashed “refurbished” helicopters the country bought from the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.
“We bought it. We bought six. Three of those helicopters crashed killing all my soldiers. Failed. Then you will tell me that procurement? Prove to me first that you are in utter good faith,” Duterte said, adding that he would never set foot on America.
The President also expressed willingness to face the officials and debate them, pointing out that the country and the US only gained their friendship when the Americans colonized the country years ago.
“Don’t tell me we’re friends because it was not a friendship agreed upon [and] mutually satisfying,” he bared. “It was a friendship imposed on us because when you won in the Spanish-American War, the Philippines was handed to you, America, like a chattel.”
In 1901, the Americans took the bells from the church of Balangiga as war trophies. Two of the three bells are preserved at the US Warren Air Force Base in Wyoming, while the third is with a traveling museum. With PNA