Killings of drug dealers ‘could hurt’ aid to Philippines
As the body count mounts in the Philippines’ deadly war on drugs, and its combative president’s rhetoric plumbs new depths, the mood in the US towards a key Asian ally is hardening.
Influential US lawmakers are warning that the extrajudicial killings in the drug war – President Rodrigo Duterte on Friday compared it to the Holocaust – could affect American aid.
And while the Obama administration maintains that its 65-year-old alliance with the Philippines remains “ironclad”, a senior US diplomat is cautioning Duterte against more anti-US posturing.
“I think it would be a serious mistake in a democratic country like the Philippines to underestimate the power of the public’s affinity for the US. That’s people power,” said Assistant Secretary of State Daniel Russel.
Past Philippine presidents have been toppled by popular protests dubbed “people power”, including former dictator Ferdinand Marcos, who was ousted in 1986.
Duterte has bristled at US criticism of the drug war and repeatedly spoken about dialling back security cooperation – although he says he will maintain the alliance. This week he said that joint military exercises of Filipino and American troops scheduled for next week in the Philippines will be the last. His foreign secretary quickly said the decision was not final. The previous Philippine government signed an agreement to give US forces access to five Philippine military bases. That reflected Manila’s anxiety over the territorial ambitions of China and the competing claims in the disputed South China Sea. “If he followed through on this pledge it would be devastating to alliance management,” said Gregory Poling, a fellow with the Southeast Asia programme at the Centre for Strategic Studies. “How does one sustain a military alliance if your militaries don’t exercise together?” On Friday, the Philippine leader said that Adolf Hitler had killed three million Jews and that he himself would be “happy to slaughter” three million addicts. More than 3,000 people have died in the crackdown on drug pushers and users since Duterte took office three months ago. The Philippines received about $175 million in US development assistance in fiscal 2015 and $50 million in foreign military financing. In 2016, it has got $75 million for counterterrorism and maritime security. Since 2011, it has received three decommissioned US Coast Guard cutters to bolster its navy.
TOUGH STANCE: Sachets of the illegal drug Methamphitamine HydroChloride or ‘Ice’ are paraded in front of arrested drug suspects in the Philippines
ZERO TOLERANCE: Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte