PRESIDENT Rodrigo Duterte is making good his promise to keep Philippines a free and independent country, saying this year’s military exercises with the United States in October will be last one.
The outspoken leader also ruled out all future joint navy patrols in the South China Sea, in yet another indication that Duterte’s government does not want to any confrontation with China.
“So I’m serving notice now to the Americans. I will maintain the military alliance, the RP-US pact which our countries signed in the early 50s,” he said, referring the 1951 Mutual Defense Treaty with the superpower.
Under the treaty, both parties are bound to protect each other from armed attacks.
“But I will establish new alliances for trade and commerce. And you are scheduled to hold war games, which China does not want. I will serve notice to you now that this will be the last military exercise. Jointly, Philippines, the U.S.? Last one,” he was quoted in ABS-CBN news as saying in Hanoi, Vietnam, on Wednesday.
Duterte’s latest comment is the strongest indication yet of the strain in the historic alliance between the U.S. and the Philippines, which Washington relies on in its bid to counter China’s growing global influence.
But the intrepid Filipino president has never been secretive about his disdain for the U.S.
He recently ordered U.S. troops in the Philippines to leave, saying America was to blame for the unrest among Muslim militants in the region. This was on top of the diplomatic flap just days earlier during the Asean Summit, during which Duterte labelled U.S. President Barack Obama a “son of a bitch”, expressed regret for saying it and then went on a public tirade against former colonizers of the Philippines in front of the world leader.
Despite the president’s tough-talking, the Philippines Amphibious Landing Exercise (Philbex) was announced last week. The drill is in accordance with the Visiting Forces Agreement signed in 1998.
According to reports, this year’s joint exercises with U.S. forces will take place from Oct 4 to 12 in multiple locations in Luzon, including in Palawan, which is said to front reefs and outcrops currently contested by Manila and Beijing.
Duterte said, however, that the Philippines is not ready to fight China, even with the help of the U.S.
“There is only two, either we go to war, or we talk…. So we talk,” he was quoted saying.
According to the leader’s Foreign Affairs Secretary Perfecto Yasay Jr, however, Duterte’s remarks may have been taken out of context by the media.
Yasay told reporters in Hanoi that the Philippines will respect its military agreements with the U.S., even that on the scheduled wargames.
“If our agreements with the United States in so far as war games are concerned is there, and these should be done pursuant to the agreement that we have, that will be respected, that will continue,” he said in an ABS-CBN report.
In a Reuters report on CNBC, U.S. State Department spokesman John Kirby said he was not aware of the proposal to end joint exercises between the Philippines and the U.S.
He said: “Our focus is on the relationship today and moving it forward. We continue to believe that that’s possible… We have significant security commitments with the Philippines. We’re committed to meeting those commitments to furthering this relationship.”
The Philippine peso is currently at its worst performance since 2009, dropping to a seven-year low Monday, while investors dumped local shares for six straight weeks on the back of growing concerns over stability under Duterte.
The president’s violent war on drugs has led to the deaths of over 3,000 people, inviting condemnation from rights advocates and international communities.