US stops sale of assault rifles to PNP
President Duterte’s right-hand man in the Senate on Tuesday said the administration should start paying attention to international concerns about the human rights situation in the Philippines after the US state department halted the planned sale of assault rifles to the Philippine National Police.
“The US is not the only maker of quality rifles. It’s time for us to get to know what’s available in the world market,” Senate President Aquilino Pimentel III told the Inquirer by text message.
“But it’s also time for us to listen to the human rights concerns that other people are repeatedly raising about us,” he added.
The US state department halted the planned sale of 26,000-27,000 M4 assault rifles to the PNP after Sen. Ben Cardin said he would oppose it, US Senate aides told Reuters on Monday.
Human rights violations
Aides said Cardin, the top Democrat on the Senate foreign relations committee, was reluctant for the United States to provide the weapons given concerns about human rights violations in the Philippines.
The relationship between the United States and the Philippines, a longtime US ally, has been complicated lately by President Duterte’s angry reaction to criticism from Washington of his violent battle to rid the country of illegal drugs.
More than 3,700 people have been killed in police operations or by suspected vigilantes in connection with the campaign against narcotics since Mr. Duterte took office on June 30.
The US state department informs Congress when international weapons sales are in the works.
Aides said foreign relations committee staff informed the state department that Cardin would oppose the deal during the department’s prenotification process for the sale of assault rifles to the PNP, stopping the deal.
State department officials did not comment.
Earlier this month, Mr. Duterte told US President Barack Obama to “go to hell” and said the United States had refused to sell some weapons to the Philippines, but he did not care because Russia and China were willing suppliers.
According to some US officials, Washington has been doing its best to ignore Mr. Duterte’s rhetoric and not provide him with a pretext for more outbursts.
An open break with the Philippines could create problems for the United States in a region where China’s influence has grown.
Senate Minority Leader Ralph Recto said both the United States and the European Union, which Mr. Duterte has called “stupid” over criticism of his brutal war on drugs, may be expected to “start turning the screw on the Philippines.”
Recto said the government should show resolve in investigating the use of excessive force by police in drug operations and bring to justice the vigilante killers.
“With regard to human rights, [the] government, through the Philippine National Police, should capture and prosecute criminals involved in vigilante killings and police rubouts,” he said.
Recto said, however, that the halted sale of assault rifles to the PNP should prompt the Philippines to develop its own weapons production capability.
“I have always said we can and must produce our own [pistols] and [rifles]. Create jobs in the process. We produce high-quality firearms domestically. We can also build ships for our Coast Guard and the Navy,” he said.
Sen. Panfilo Lacson, chair of the Senate committee on public order and dangerous drugs, urged the Department of National Defense to develop the Philippines’ own weapons manufacturing capability.
Lacson also said the Philippines could look to gunmakers in other countries to buy firearms.
“Since it’s a planned sale of assault rifles by the US to the Philippines, we do not stand to lose anything except one less gun store to choose from,” he said in a statement.
“There are tens of other countries that manufacture better and probably cheaper assault rifles than the US,” Lacson said.
“There is now more reason for our Department of National Defense to revive our self-reliance program so we can produce our own weapons and ammunition and other military hardware,” he added.
Malacañang said the halted arms deal was an “issue between the US state department and Sen. Ben Cardin.”
Presidential Communications Secretary Martin Andanar said the Palace was optimistic that the PNP could acquire assault rifles from other sources.
The PNP was disappointed at the potential loss of a high-quality US-made rifle.
The M4 is a carbine, shorter and lighter than the M16A2 assault rifle.
Chambered for the 5.56 millimeter Nato round, the M4 is capable of firing semiautomatic or three-round bursts—ideal for close-quarter combat.
It is heavily used by the US military and is fast replacing the M16 in most US Army and Marine Corps units as the primary infantry weapon.
Senior Supt. Dionardo Carlos, spokesperson for the PNP, said the PNP would look for other suppliers of the M4 if the US deal would fall through.
“If the purchase won’t push through, the PNP will look for other ways to buy M4 assault rifles from other suppliers in other countries,” Carlos said in a text message to reporters.
He said the PNP would wait for the official notice from the winning bidder, InTrade.
Citing information from PNP Directorate for Logistics head Director Jose Ma. Victor Ramos, Carlos said the purchase of the M4s was part of the capability enhancement procurement program of the PNP for 2013, 2014 and 2015.
The P88.1-billion PNP budget, approved under the previous administration, includes funds for purchase of 35,000 high-powered rifles.
In January, the logistics directorate announced that it would buy M4s through public bidding using leftover funds from the 2014 and 2015 PNP budget.
“The award was given to the winning bidder in July 2016 after the rigorous bidding process by the procurement service of the Department of Budget and Management (DBM). A purchase contract has already been signed by the winning bidder and the Philippine government,” he said.
The DBM handled the bidding because the purchase would be financed from a prior fund, he said.
He said the winning bidder’s offer was for SIG Sauer M4 rifles made in the United States but were of a European brand.
In the United States, the M4 is made by several gunmakers, including Colt’s Manufacturing Co. for military sales and Bushmaster Firearms International for civilian sales.
The SIG Sauer M4 is made by SIG Sauer GmbH of Germany, which has a US operation based in Newington, New Hampshire.
The Philippine Army also issues M4s to its troops. In January, the Army said it bought 69,000 M4s from Remington Arms Co., another US maker of the assault rifle, to replace the old M16 rifles, which would be given to reservists and militiamen. —WITH REPORTS FROM MARLON RAMOS