Palace puzzled: How can US sanction PH over arms deal with Russia?

Published July 19, 2018, 2:15 PM

by Patrick Garcia

By Argyll Cyrus Geducos

Malacañang is curious the United States could possibly sanction the Philippines for its reported purchase of grenade launchers with a blacklisted Russian firm.

Presidential spokesperson Harry Roque speaks during a press briefing at the New Executive Building in Malacanang, Friday. (CAMILLE ANTE / MANILA BULLETIN)
Presidential spokesperson Harry Roque

Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque made the statement following reports that the Philippines is at risk of breaching sanctions by the United States over the country’s reported purchase of a P400-million 750 RPG-7B rocket-propelled grenade launchers from Russia’s state-owned Rosoroboronexport.

Roque, in a Palace press briefing, said that Malacañang will study the matter. However, he said that he does not know how can such US laws affect something that is not happening inside US territory.

“As a professor of international law and constitutional law, I do not know how they can enforce a US domestic legislation on a sovereign state, on a transaction that will not occur in US soil,” he said Thursday.

“So this is an example po of what is known as transnational legislation, extraterritorial legislation. At hindi ko po talaga alam kung ano ang magiging legal na basehan para masakop tayo sa pagbabawal ng batas na ito (And I do not really know what will be the legal basis for us to be covered by this law),” he added.

According to Roque, the Philippines, as a sovereign state, has absolute immunity in its exercise of a function of national defense. He added that he does not see the relevance of US laws in the matter.

“I do not know how US law could be applicable to a transaction that will be done outside the United States. The sale will be most likely in Russia, the goods are in Russia, and the delivery in the Philippines. So what is the relevance of US laws?” he said.

“Hindi naman po pupwede na (It cannot be that) US laws have the effect of super laws applicable to anyone, even outside their jurisdiction, lalung-lalo na po kung ang isang partido ay isang (especially if one of the parties involved is a) sovereign state,” he added.

The Palace official also insisted that the Philippines, a sovereign state, is free to enter into any contract as it pleases.

“The Philippines is a sovereign state. We have immunity, and we are free to enter into contracts as we please, and we are not bound by any domestic law particularly where the transaction will not occur in US soil,” Roque said.

However, Roque is uncertain about the fate of the arms deal between the Philippines and Russia.

“Well, I do not know if it is a go. The official stand is we will study the matter. But off-hand, I am giving the legal position of the Palace–that I do not see how we are bound by a US extraterritorial piece of legislation,” he said.

US sanctions were imposed since last year against any country trading with Russia’s defense and intelligence sectors. This is to punish Russia for its 2014 annexation of Crimea from Ukraine, support for Syria’s government, and alleged meddling in the 2016 US elections.

The Philippines has long relied on the United States for its military hardware and support. However, President Duterte’s foreign policy shifted and now aims to establish closer ties with both Russia and China.

President Duterte also revealed that one of his objectives during his trip to Russia last year was to seek assistance from them. However, his trip was cut short when the war in Marawi City, Lanao del Sur sparked.

Duterte said that Russian President Vladimir Putin understood the situation. Since then, Russia has donated military hardware to the Philippines.

In several instances, Duterte thanked Russia for their assistance in the Marawi crisis and lauded the world giant for not asking for anything in return.