MANILA: U.S.-Philippines ties are going through “bumps on the road” and the Philippine military could manage if treaty ally the United States were to withdraw aid, the defence minister said on Friday.
The Philippines intended to buy arms from China and Russia and there had been no adverse reaction from within the military to President Rodrigo Duterte’s vows to scale back defence ties with the United States, Defence Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said.
Lorenzana’s remarks suggested he was following other top officials in Duterte’s administration in rallying behind the maverick president’s tough anti-U.S. agenda after weeks of scrambling to manage the fallout from his outbursts and threats to downgrade the alliance.
Lorenzana had on Wednesday set a conciliatory tone, saying Duterte may have been misinformed when he said U.S.-Philippine military exercises were no benefit to his country.
But on Friday Lorenzana said the value of U.S. military aid to the Philippines was “not that much”, and the military could ask Congress to make up for a shortfall of some US$50 million-US$100 million a year in U.S. military aid.
“We can live without (that),” Lorenzana told a foreign correspondents’ forum.
Duterte, well known for a ruthless stand against crime from his years as mayor of a southern city, won election in May on a promise to wipe out drugs and drug dealers.
Some 3,600 people have been killed in his anti-drugs drive and he has been enraged by questions about human rights, from the United States and others, that the bloodshed has raised.
Duterte said on Thursday if the United States and European Union objected to his drugs war and wished to withdraw aid, they should do so, and the Philippines would not beg.
U.S. State Department spokesman John Kirby responded to that saying total U.S. assistance to the Philippines in the fiscal year that began on Oct. 1 was US$180 million “and we’re committed” to delivering that.
A Philippine dispute with China over sovereignty in the South China Sea would not impede defence procurements, he said, adding there had been no discussion of the two countries working together militarily.
“All we are thinking now is buying equipment,” he said. “No talks yet about military alliance. Just simple transaction of buying equipment.”