Duterte changes his mind, OKs U.S. assault rifle deal for Philippine police

By Ryan Maass   |   Updated Nov. 15, 2016 at 9:32 AM
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MANILA, Nov. 14 (UPI) -- Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte will move forward with purchasing more than 26,000 assault rifles from the United States, reversing his earlier position.

The M4 carbine rifles from SIG Sauer are destined for the Philippine National Police. Duterte's reversal comes just weeks after the president said he would consider buying similar weapons from Russia if the United States blocked the sale. The controversial head of state gave his approval following a meeting with PNP Director General Ronald dela Rosa, who maintained the deal would not meet any opposition.

"We reported to him that the processing of the documents is going smoothly, according to ... SIG Sauer. They saw no one is blocking it," dela Rosa said in a news conference. "So when I explained that to him, he said 'Okay, you continue'."

Philippine authorities said they began doubting whether the sale would go through after remarks made by U.S. Sen. Ben Cardin, a Democrat from Maryland. The senator expressed opposition to the sale, saying Duterte's violent anti-drug campaign has violated human rights and should disqualify the deal.

Philippine officials estimate roughly 4,000 people have been killed by police in the effort, although human rights organizations such as Amnesty International say this number is likely higher. Duterte has been vocal about encouraging police and citizens to kill suspected drug dealers.

The United States and the Philippines signed the $34.6 million contract to provide SIG Sauer M4 tactical rifles for the PNP in July. The weapons, a lighter and shorter carbine variant of the M16 assault rifle, cost approximately $1,300 each, and are capable of firing semiautomatic or three-round bursts to support close-quarter combat. Versions of the M4 are made for the military, police and civilian markets.

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