HUMAN Rights Watch warned Wednesday that two other US funding programs for the Philippine National Police worth a total of $41 million are at risk because of President Rodrigo Duterte’s bloody war on illegal drugs.
In a statement, the group said this includes $9 million in aid for counter-narcotics and law enforcement programs for 2017 and the $32 million in assistance pledged by US Secretary of State John Kerry in July.
HRW Asia Division Deputy Director Phelim Kine said if Duterte’s war against drugs will continue, the Philippines could lose the funding, given the recent announcement of the American government that the $32-million assistance to promote human rights and security is now subject to “rigorous vetting.”
“Duterte and [PNP chief Ronald] dela Rosa are now on notice that the bloodletting they have encouraged carries a cost with its longtime ally,” Kine said.
Kine made his statement after an unverified reports said that the US government has decided to cancel its planned sale of some 27,000 assault rifles to the PNP due to the increasing concern over human rights violations in the country’s campaign against illegal drugs.
In July, during Kerry’s visit to Manila, the US pledged $32 million in aid to the Philippines in the form of training and services to bolster the country’s law enforcement efforts.
US Embassy Press Attaché And First Secretary Molly Koscina said both countries are now discussing where and how the money will be spent.
“The funds which were recently announced can only be used when both countries agree on their specific use,” Koscina said.
“If no agreement is reached, the funds may be used in a country other than the Philippines,” she added.
Dela Rosa said Wednesday they had not received any official notice that the sale had been called off.
“As per letter from [the US company] Sig Sauer dated Nov. 1, 2016, the export license for the delivery of the rifles is undergoing normal process in the US State Department,” he said.
In the letter of Global Defense Sales executive vice president Amaro Goncalves to the PNP, the American company Sig Sauer Inc. said they have contacted the US State Department to verify the status of the processing of licenses for the assault rifles procured by the PNP.
“This request is the result of media reports indicating that the license processing may be stalled in the US Senate. Sig Sauer contacted the State Department for the status of the license and was advised earlier today that the license was being processed as normal.”
“We will continue to monitor the status of this license and advise of any meaningful changes,” the PNP chief said.
The sale involves 27,394 basic assault rifles worth P64,000 each.
The contract was signed on July 13 while the notice to proceed was approved on July 29 for Sig Sauer Inc., the winning bidder, represented by InTrade Asia Pacific Corp.
The US State Department has remained quiet about the reported cancellation of the rifle deal.
In Davao, Duterte said the country could buy rifles from Russia and China.
“Remember what the Russian diplomat said? ‘Come to Russia. We have here anything you need,’” he said.
Earlier, reports said US Senator Ben Cardin was blocking the sale of rifles amid concerns of human rights violations in the anti-drug campaign.
John Kirby, a spokesman for the US State Department, said his department cannot comment on export license approvals on commercial defense sales.
“The department is restricted under Federal regulations from commenting on the status of and/or internal deliberations regarding export license approvals of proposed commercial defense sales. We are committed to working closely with members of Congress to deliver security assistance to our allies and partners worldwide,” Kirby said in a press briefing at Washington.
Kirby said the rifle deal is governed by commercial export license approvals.
“They are US commercial sales,” he said, adding that while America is committed to the alliance it has with the Philippines, the US government is deeply concerned with reports of extrajudicial killings under the Duterte administration and wants a probe into these allegations.
Kirby said the US government strongly urges the Philippines to make sure its law enforcement efforts are consistent with its international human rights obligations.
Senator Panfilo Lacson said the cancellation of the rifle sale exhibited the “bully attitude” that the Americans have toward the Philippines.
In a statement, Lacson decried the decision as unfair.
“Prudence dictates that the US State Department should first show a conclusive investigation that affirms what Senator Benjamin Cardin has alleged before issuing a statement banning the sale of assault rifles to our uniformed services,” said Lacson.
Senate Majority Leader Vicente Sotto III said the country could find other sources.
“Israel, Austria and Russia also produce the same or better assault rifles and ammo. With enough funding, the Philippines can also be good producers,” Sotto added.
But Senator Leila de Lima said the US reactions should have been expected.
“The Duterte administration saw this coming and of course was most probably indifferent to its consequences as its social media support groups and fake news sites will now drum this up as an opportunity to be independent of the US,” De Lima said.
She said this so-called independent positioning is “hollow and all bluster.” With F. Pearl A. Gajunera, John Paolo Bencito