The Duterte administration has revealed its new defense modernization policy–ordering weapons from two trusted suppliers. And neither is the United States. In a speech delivered to the Philippine Marine Corps on November 7, President Duterte thanked regional allies for their support during the battle of Marawi and praised Russia for the AKMs and trucks it sent over.
Speaking in the vernacular, Duterte mentioned the next acquisitions by the Department of National Defense (DND) are for counter-terrorism equipment made in Israel and Russia. He had kind words for America too. “I’m not saying this with contempt,” the President said. “We remain the best of friends with America. Some of you [Marines] went to school in America. I do not blame you if some of your sentiments are really with the power that helped us for the longest time.”
Duterte did explain to his audience, who were celebrating the 67th anniversary of the Philippine Marines, why he’d rather not transact with the US anymore. “Let me state it publicly, here and now, I don’t have a problem with America,” he said. “I say to you [Marines] that we have to prepare for the next [war]. It’s gonna come somewhere, somehow and we have to be prepared for this.”
“In my time [as President] I told the defense department that I will not buy any secondhand equipment or whatever weapons that we need,” Duterte said. He was no doubt referring to programs such as the Mutual Logistics Support Agreement (MLSA) allowing deliveries of US equipment for the AFP. These are usually taken from existing surplus stocks in US bases and helped replenish the AFP’s depleted arsenal as the battle for Marawi dragged on.
During his visit to Bonifacio Naval Station earlier this week, Duterte made sure to plug new projects his administration was rolling out for the benefit of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP). Foremost is a salary bump for all enlisted personnel that comes into effect on January 2018. Members of the police force, prison guards, and emergency service providers will enjoy the same.
Another project Duterte mentioned is free housing for disabled veterans. The battle of Marawi exacted a grim toll on soldiers and police, who suffered a thousand wounded fighting against the terrorists holed up in the city, and Duterte promised these survivors better healthcare. “I’ll build something like a convalescent home near the cities,” he said. “Where the soldiers can have a better access to the hospitals, and of course, the training for the[ir] prosthetic [limbs].”
According to Duterte he already ordered the DND to release a 500 million peso budget for treating Marawi veterans with physical disabilities.
No further elaboration was provided by Duterte after his claim of buying arms from Israel and Russia. But there’s at least a precedent when it comes to patronizing the former’s hardware. Filipino law enforcement and special forces are familiar with Israeli weapons since these have been sold to the Philippines since the 1980s.
The early acquisitions then grew over the next three decades and Israeli technology did have a serious impact in the battle of Marawi. It was a remote controlled M2 Browning on an M113 APC that killed the terrorist leaders attempting to flee the city ruins. The weapon station was made by Israeli firm Elbit Systems. Both the army and marines did receive towed 155mm howitzers from the same company in July 2017.
Duterte himself is known to be fond of Israeli small arms and once owned a prized Uzi. But Russian weapons remain scarce in the Philippine setting. There’s now a pending order for RPG-7 launchers to augment the army’s anti-tank weapons. There are no clues yet on what the DND might want from Moscow in the coming years.