Rodrigo Duterte threatens to scrap pact allowing US troop rotation

Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte gesturing during a news conference upon his arrival from a state visit in Vietnam at the International Airport in Davao city, Philippines, on Sept 30, 2016.
Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte gesturing during a news conference upon his arrival from a state visit in Vietnam at the International Airport in Davao city, Philippines, on Sept 30, 2016. PHOTO: REUTERS

Just days after saying he would end joint military exercises with the United States, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has upped the ante, threatening to scrap a 10-year defence pact allowing the US to rotate troops in at least eight bases in the Philippines.

Mr Duterte was bristling at criticism from Western governments and human rights groups of his recent remarks likening his anti-crime war to the Holocaust.

Yesterday, he apologised to the Jewish community for those comments.

"I apologise deeply and profoundly to the Jewish community," he said. "I would like to make it (clear) now… There was never any intention on my part to derogate the memory of six million Jews murdered by the Germans."

Last Friday, he drew a parallel between his bloody war on narcotics and the Holocaust.

"Hitler massacred three million Jews… Now there are three million drug addicts… I'd be happy to slaughter them," he said, understating the toll of six million cited by historians.

"If Germany had Hitler, the Philippines would have," he said before pausing and pointing to himself.

But Mr Duterte said yesterday that his apology did not extend to US and European officials who had criticised him for the remarks.

The Philippine President has shown defiance to the US, the European Union, the United Nations and human rights advocates, which expressed concerns over his anti-crime drive that has left over 3,500 people dead.

He insists the extrajudicial killings, especially by police trying to arrest suspects, are justified and necessary.

To the Americans, he said: "If you are mad at me, I am mad at you, too."

For good measure, he said he was considering scrapping the Enhanced Defence Cooperation Agreement (Edca) signed in 2014 during a visit here by US President Barack Obama, under a "new" foreign policy he promised to outline "in the coming days".

"Better think twice now because I will be asking you to leave the Philippines," he warned.

Mr Duterte said the pact did not bear the signature of his predecessor, Mr Benigno Aquino, suggesting that he could have the agreement reviewed and even ditch it altogether.

"We will get out… after a review of the document, and if I find that there is not a signature, if you cannot produce a signature bearing the permit to you to conduct these… including war games," he said.

He declared last week that joint military exercises with the United States scheduled this week would be the last.

Edca allows the US to use at least eight military bases in the Philippines where it can rotate its troops, planes and ships.

Two of these bases are seen as giving US forces rapid access to the Spratly archipelago in the southern half of the South China Sea.

Shortly after winning the presidency in May, Mr Duterte had said: "I have no problem with Edca-sanctioned use of Philippine military bases by US troops because we don't have good external defence capabilities."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 03, 2016, with the headline 'Duterte threatens to scrap pact allowing US troop rotation'. Print Edition | Subscribe