MANILA (Reuters) – The Philippines police will push ahead with the purchase of 26,000 assault rifles from a U.S. supplier, the police chief said on Monday, following an about-face by President Rodrigo Duterte, who previously said the deal would be scrapped.
Duterte had a week ago expressed anger at “fools” and “monkeys” in Washington seeking to block the deal and said he would cancel it himself. But Duterte’s police chief said he revoked that decision, apparently after Republican Donald Trump’s surprise win in the U.S. presidential election.
“(The president) told me to continue the deal,” Philippine National Police (PNP) chief Dela Rosa, told a news conference.
“The processing of documents are going on smoothly … we have the blessing of the president to continue the transaction.”
Dela Rosa did not say why Duterte had changed his mind, but he said there would be a new president in Washington and “he and Donald Trump are friends”.
Aides to Ben Cardin, who sits on the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee, last month said the State Department had been informed Cardin would oppose the deal during the prenotification process, effectively putting the brakes on it.
Cardin was reluctant for the United States to provide weapons to the police given concern about alleged human rights violations in Duterte’s war on drugs, which killed 2,300 people in its first four months.
The tough-talking Duterte has been incensed by U.S. concerns about a drugs crackdown he says is needed to save his country from ruin.
He has regularly berated the Obama administration but has expressed a desire to work with Trump.
Dela Rosa said it was possible the president would scrap the guns deal if there were an intervention in Washington.
“If they will block it, I’m sure the president will again tell me to stop it. We’re paying for it, we’re not begging for it,” he said.
(Reporting by Martin Petty; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore)