Government News Analysis

An act of malice

US arms supplies to Philippine National Police
US arms supplies to Philippine National Police

If Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte is looking for a reason to ditch the United States as an arms supplier to the Philippine National Police (PNP), he should look no further than the Philippines Human Rights Accountability and Counternarcotics Act of 2017 – yes, that’s really the title of a piece of proposed legislation being pushed to the US Congress.

This farcical Act explains exactly why Duterte should continue to pursue an independent foreign policy for his country. The government in Manila cannot do business with a government that deals in fabrication and half truths that are the sole justification for this maliciously-motivated legislation.

The Act – we’ve gone through it – reads like it’s based on the anti-Duterte coverage of The New York Times and The Washington Post. In fact, it most likely is. It has the same sources and the same broad evidence-free unsubstantiated allegations that Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International regularly dish up. They’re actually quoted in the Act.

It even has an irrelevant reference to the alleged drugs-profiting senator, Leila de Lima’s arrest. It also carries a quote from Manila Archbishop, Louis Antonia Cardinal Tagle: “… whether a person is guilty or not, life should be cared for and respected” – totally missing the irony that while attributing extrajudicial killings to Duterte, the authors of this act are denying his legal right: the presumption of innocence. This states that the burden of proof is on the accuser – ei incumbit probatio qui dicit, non qui negat. Yet no proof has been supplied.

What this proposed legislation is then is simply an attempt at extortion. Duterte must come to heel – meaning he must comply with the demands of the Liberal mainstream – or sanctions will be imposed on his police force.

The authors of the Bill are Democratic senator, Benjamin Cardin, and Republican senator, Marco Rubio. Their purpose? To end Duterte’s War on Drugs. As Cardin put it, the legislation shows “the consequences” if he persists. Cardin is one of former president Barack Obama’s most loyal subjects and has likely never forgiven Duterte for an unflattering comment he made about Obama last September.

This is how Cardin put it: “Mr Duterte must handle criminal issues through the rule of law and allow drug addicts access to the public health services and treatment they deserve. In the absence of such actions, this legislation is clear in its support for the Filipino people and the importance of our alliance, but also the consequences if Mr Duterte’s actions continue”.

But the Bill’s probably intended to put the current US president, Donald Trump, in a difficult position also. Rubio, though a Republican, has several issues where he conflicts with Trump and has challenged a number of the president’s Cabinet nominations. Cardin, one of the most Liberal-Left politicians in the US, is even more critical of Trump and, apparently, was “deeply concerned” by Trump’s “cavalier” invitation for Duterte to visit the White House.

If this legislation ever makes it through Congress, the chances that Trump would sign it into law, we believe, are remote. Given the current standoff over North Korea whose leader, Kim Jong-un, is in the mood for Armageddon, plus the geopolitics of the whole of East Asia where China has established its dominance, Trump is unlikely to go the Obama route and force Duterte further east and scupper his own plans for reviving US-Philippine relations.

Filed on Friday, the Bill seeks to restrict the export of “defense articles” to the PNP. Here’s what it states: “… no defense articles or defense services may be exported, and no licenses for export of any item controlled by the United States for law enforcement, riot control, or related purposes may be issued for the use of the Philippine National Police or entities associated with the Philippine National Police”.

In other words, this would also apply to the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency, the National Bureau of Investigation, the Special Action Force, the Aviation Security Group, the Criminal Investigation and Detection Group, the Maritime Group, the Intelligence Group, the Police Security and Protection Group, the Highway Patrol Group, the PNP Anti-Kidnapping Group, possibly even the Presidential Security Group and a few others.

Duterte, of course, knows exactly what’s at play here and his position is strong – certainly it can’t be shaken by a couple of peevish US senators who want to bolster their Liberal CVs with what they see as a populist cause. As far as procuring weapons for his lawmen is concerned he has plenty of options – China, Russia and Israel being at the top of the list.

As Senator Panfilo Lacson, a former Director-General of the PNP, said after Cardin managed to stop a shipment of 26,000 assault rifles to the PNP last November, all it means is that the Philippines has “one less gun store to choose from”.

Unravelling all this then, the Cardin-Rubio Bill is not actually about denying the PNP access to weapons; that’s simply what’s written on the can. Let’s face it, the US which commands a minimum 35% market share of global arms sales has never been too fussy where those arms end up in most cases.

That’s 35% of a market with an annual value of US$70 billion – in other words, US$24.5 billion. Moreover, the US mainstream media rarely report on this. In 2014, nearly half global arms deals were done by American companies. In 2011, it was close to 70%. This boom in sales ran throughout Obama’s presidency. Arms sales facilitated by the Pentagon, according to its own ‘sales department’ – the Defense Security Cooperation Agency (they have a way with words at Fort Fumble) – hit US$46 billion, or 65.7% of global sale in 2015 and around US$40 billion (57%) last year.

And here’s another fact: in the first six years of the Obama presidency, the US made agreements to sell the world US$190 billion worth of weapons, the biggest selling spree since the Second World War. And we’re not talking about assault rifles here; we’re talking about US-made cluster bombs, precision-guided missile, Abrams battle tanks, F-18 supersonic combat jets, Black Hawk and Huey helicopters

Nor does there seem to be a great deal of Congressional oversight. On Obama’s very last day in office, for example, he made a US$418 million arms deal with Kenya which was immediately approved by the US State Department without going anywhere near Congress. They were simply informed later.

The real US attitude to selling arms around the world is perhaps best summed up by Marillyn Hewson, CEO of an industry leader, Lockheed Martin. In 2015, when asked if Obama’s Iran nuclear deal would damage sales prospects in the Middle East she replied that continuing volatility there and in Asia would make these regions “growth areas” for the foreseeable future. In other words, Lockheed Martin shareholders had nothing to worry about.

So When Cardin and his US Liberal chums point the finger at Duterte and vilify him for trying to rescue his country and its people from the hell of drugs it finds itself in, given the wretched catalogue of weaponry which his country swamps to the world annually – killing untold tens of thousands of innocent civilians right across the atlas – we find it rich.

But then we shouldn’t. Washington has always been duplicitous where the Philippines is concerned – if truth be known, there are many among the Cardin elite who believe America still owns the place – and so it’s merely attempting to keep that tradition alive.

The US Congress, however, is not the Philippine Congress, the US Department of State is not the Philippines’ Department of Foreign Affairs, the US Department of Defense is not the Philippines’ Department of National Defense, the US Department of Homeland Security is not the Philippine Department of the Interior and Local Government and since Philippine independence from the US in 1946, the US president has never been the Philippine president, whether in name or authority.

We believe that Duterte should work with Trump where he can and where it makes sense for the Philippines. Where he can’t he should continue to pursue an independent foreign policy and firm up new bilateral partnerships – not just in East Asia but with the large economies of the Middle East, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and the Gulf States in particular, and anywhere else on God’s Earth. And without having to run it past Washington first.

The Philippines is emerging from decades of dormancy; but this is now its time. And as that moment has come, so has the man. Duterte understands what requires to be done in his country. He certainly doesn’t need second guessing by a politically motivated senator from Baltimore in Maryland which last year was the seventh most violent city – largely gun-crime deaths – in the continental US. With the highest per-capita heroin-addiction rate in America, Cardin’s Baltimore is also the country’s heroin capital. Given that background, taking advice from him would be like taking weight-management tips from the morbidly obese.