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Duterte Sours on Offer to Buy U.S. Equipment: ‘Utterly Useless’

Van bomb in southern Philippines kills 10
AFP Ted ALJIBE
FRANCES MARTEL

Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte dismissed the possibility of buying American-made F-16 fighter jets in remarks late Thursday, shortly after revealing three U.S. cabinet members had allegedly put the offer on the table.

Duterte dismissed the offer as “utterly useless,” suggesting that what the Philippines needs for its security are smaller planes and helicopters to fight drug crime and jihadists, not fighter jets apt for more conventional warfare.

The remarks came at an event celebrating the anniversary of the Eastern Mindanao Command, local units in Duterte’s hometown of Davao City, where he continues to live despite having access to the presidential palace in Manila. They followed earlier statements in which Duterte appeared to be considering the offer of buying American equipment, but did not trust that Washington would deliver on its promises.

The State Department canceled an order of M14 assault rifles Duterte made in 2016, citing the spiraling violence triggered by the president’s war on drugs. Duterte has publically advocated for extra-judicial killings of drug suspects and threatened to personally kill drug traffickers and terrorists.

The M14 incident appears to be what Duterte referenced on Thursday when he accused the United States of “humiliating us.”

Arguing that the Philippines does not need the advanced fighter jets, Duterte said, “and yet they dangled (them) before us after they humiliated us. It would be utterly useless to buy it. But I need attack helicopters and small planes for the counterinsurgency.”

“I have nothing against America and am sure wala rin kayo [you don’t have anything against them either] … but mine is more of just the what is the reality on the ground,” he reportedly said on Thursday. “Ngayon, bumabawi sila [Now, they are taking it back], 3 Cabinet members in one letter.”

Duterte revealed on Thursday what he insisted was a private letter he received from Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis, and Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross, offering to discuss the sale of weapons. He read what he claimed were parts of the letter out loud.

“The US-Philippines alliance is an enduring partnership, built on shared history and values. This special relationship will only grow stronger by increasing our dialogue especially on security cooperation and trade,” Duterte read. He later said he would wnat to meet the secretaries in person, but not in America, vowing once again to never come to the country.

Duterte also generally condemned the friendly relationship between Manila and Washington. “You make us a colony many years ago. It’s a friendship imposed on us,” he said, addressing America. He then demanded the return of the Balangiga bells, currently in the United States after being moved in the early 1900s, as a prerequisite to any “talking” with the Philippines.

Duterte has spent much of his presidency since beign inaugurated in mid-2016 antagonizing the United States and urging closer ties to countries like China and Russia. Yet he has appeared to develop a closer relationship with President Donald Trump than his predecessor, Barack Obama, who he referred to as a “son of a whore” on multiple occasions. Duterte met Trump late last year, sharing conversations at the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) meeting and singing a love song at the event’s gala that he claimed President Trump “ordered” him to.

Duterte has not exhibited a friendlier disposition to the United States generally, however. Instead, he has accepted military equipment from China and generally attempted to establish closer ties to Beijing, a move polls show has not satisfied many in the Philippines, who consider the United States a more trustworthy ally. China has increasingly colonized territory belonging to the Philippines in the South China Sea and demanded that Philippines vessels and fishermen stay out of their own sovereign waters.

Follow Frances Martel on Facebook and Twitter.

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