Philippine officials seek clarity after Duterte suggests end of US exercises
PHILIPPINES - Philippine officials said yesterday they were awaiting clarification from President Rodrigo Duterte about military exercises with US forces after he promised to honor their defense treaty, but declared joint war games would cease. The maverick former Philippine mayor famous for his unpredictability and terse rhetoric, on Wednesday told Filipinos in Vietnam that joint marine drills with next week would be “the last”, a comment he slowly repeated. His remarks gave one of the clearest signs yet of his willingness to test the limits of a historic alliance that has provided important defense support for the Philippines. Visiting Vietnam’s leadership on Thursday, Duterte did not speak to media but his foreign secretary, Perfecto Yasay, said longstanding treaties with the United States would be honored. He said exercises with US forces planned for 2017 would go ahead, because they were agreed by the previous government, while those from 2018 onwards would be reviewed. But he said the Philippines did not want a military ally and sought diversified relations and no enemies. The United States embassy in Manila said it had not received any official notice from the Philippine government on the termination of joint exercises. Philippine foreign ministry spokesman Charles Jose said it was possible that a Visiting Forces Agreement between the Philippines and the United States could be abrogated, but that would be up to Duterte.
“No one could clarify what the president really wants,” he told reporters. The Defense of National Defense (DND) said it was seeking guidance from the president. “The DND will await further orders from President Rodrigo R. Duterte,” it said in a statement, adding its defense secretary would “seek more clarification and guidance”. “As stated earlier, all agreements and treaties with the U.S. are still in effect,” it said in a statement. Yasay said Duterte’s ruling out of joint maritime patrols with the United States had been misinterpreted, and he was referring only to exercises in waters disputed by both the Philippines. Duterte swept an election in May on a promise to get tough on crime, and in particular to wipe out drugs. He initially appeared to have been infuriated by a U.S. expression of concern about his bloody crackdown on drug dealers and he referred to President Barack Obama as a “son of a bitch” on the eve of a planned meeting at an summit in Laos this month. (Reuters.com)
Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte arrives at Noi Bai International Airport in Hanoi, Vietnam. (Photo: Reuters.com)