The Diplomat’s Prashanth Parameswaran explained that despite the problems President Rodrigo Duterte has posed for the U.S.-Philippines alliance, the drone transfer reinforced growing defense cooperation between the two countries. Whether or not Duterte has any say in this issue continues to be unclear.
For example, an ISIS-linked insurgency exploded in the country last year, and the U.S. military assisted in the Philippines’ government crackdown, reportedly without President Rodrigo Duterte’s consent.
Just this Wednesday, Duterte said he would not allow Filipino troops to be dragged into U.S.-led conflicts unless the Philippines is under direct threat. The president reportedly said:
“I am addressing America right now. Whatever expeditions that you will conduct, any wars that you will fight in any other countries, count us out. Wala kaming nakuha all these years of sacrifice except brutality and agony. We will stand [on] our own.”
Despite Duterte’s defiant stance, it is worth noting that according to the Military Times, only months ago the Pentagon changed its assistance mission in the Philippines from Operation Enduring Freedom-Philippines to Operation Pacific Eagle, a development that, at the time, highlighted “a new, ramped up counterterrorism focus in the region.” Operation Enduring Freedom-Philippines has been regarded as the largest U.S. counterterrorism effort in the Pacific theater.
“The Philippines and United States governments remain steadfast in their alliance and are committed to countering radicalization and violent extremism in the Philippines and Southeast Asia,” stated Marine Lt. Col. Christopher Logan, a Pentagon spokesman, according to the Military Times. “To support these efforts, and at the request of the government of the Philippines, we have enhanced our comprehensive counterterrorism cooperation that supports the Philippine Security Forces.”
In the latest developments, last Tuesday, the U.S. officially gifted six Boeing Insitu ScanEagle drones to the Philippines in a ceremony held at the Philippine Air Force headquarters at Villamor Air Base, approved via a U.S. grant of over $13 million.
The news of this U.S.-Philippines drone transfer broke approximately one week before Yahoo published an exclusive report documenting how the Trump administration is in the process of making it easier to export some types of lethal U.S.-made drones to potentially dozens more allies and partners.
According to those familiar with the plan, Trump will ease rules for foreign sales under a new policy on unmanned military aircraft as early as this month. One of the policy’s key points is to lower the obstacles to sales of small hunter-killer drones that carry fewer missiles and travel shorter distances than the prevailing Predator drone.
Writing for the Diplomat, Parameswaran acknowledged that the Philippines may also be looking to acquire drones from Israel. According to the Yahoo report, this is one of the reasons U.S. drone manufacturers have lobbied so hard to have restrictions removed on their ability to sell drones to their allies; Israel manufacturers are increasingly becoming viable competitors due to Israel having fewer restrictions on the sale of equipment.
As of September 30, 2017, there were reportedly some 100 U.S. troops, mostly Marines, located in the Philippines, according to the Defense Manpower Data Center.
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