Philippines not cutting ties with its allies: Duterte

Mr Duterte speaking about the US occupation of the Philippines in the early 1900s in Manila on Monday. "We are not going to cut our umbilical cord to countries we are allied with," he said at an air force event yesterday.
Mr Duterte speaking about the US occupation of the Philippines in the early 1900s in Manila on Monday. "We are not going to cut our umbilical cord to countries we are allied with," he said at an air force event yesterday.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

But President again signals policy shift to lessen his nation's dependence on US

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte said yesterday that the Philippines was not cutting ties with its allies, even as he again signalled a move away from his nation's longest-standing ally, the United States.

"We are not going to cut our umbilical cord to countries we are allied with," he said in a speech at a Philippine Air Force event.

Earlier in the day, Foreign Minister Perfecto Yasay said in a TV interview that the Philippines "will respect all treaty agreements or arrangement with any nation".

TIES REMAIN

I am not anti-American. We are not severing military ties. Who am I to abrogate a treaty?

PHILIPPINE PRESIDENT RODRIGO DUTERTE, who insists that he wants to lessen Philippine dependence on the US.

He said these included a 10-year defence pact, signed in 2014, that allows the US to rotate troops through at least five military bases in the Philippines.

Mr Duterte said: "I am not anti- American. We are not severing military ties. Who am I to abrogate a treaty?" But he insisted that he wanted to lessen Philippine dependence on the US. "We could never be just a small country and be shouted at or lectured upon by any foreign country or by any president."

Pursuing that policy shift, Mr Duterte said he had ordered defence officials to shop for weapons from China and Russia and end joint patrols with the US in the South China Sea.

Bloomberg reported that since 1950, the US has accounted for about three-quarters of the Philippines' arms imports.

Mr Duterte also said the Philippines would keep its patrols within its 12-nautical-mile territorial sea.

"We keep ourselves there. I don't want to join patrols with any army because I don't want any trouble... I don't want to go gung-ho with China or America," he said.

On Monday, Mr Duterte said he would like to see US special forces leave the war-torn southern island group of Mindanao.

His spokesman Ernesto Abella clarified yesterday that this was just a "notice" of Mr Duterte's discomfort and not official policy.

"There's no such thing as, 'Okay by Aug 15, Sept 15, you're supposed to leave.' He's laying down a notice that, really, while you're there, there will be conflict. It's not safe for you," said Mr Abella.

Notwithstanding Mr Duterte's verbal salvos, US State Department spokesman John Kirby said: "We're going to remain committed to our alliance commitments in the Philippines."

Brigadier-General Restituto Padilla, the Philippine military spokesman, said "broader defence programmes with the United States would remain intact".

Reacting to Mr Duterte's move away from Washington, political analyst Richard Javad Heydarian at De La Salle University in Manila said: "The issue here isn't only the ends, but also the means; not only strategy, but also tactics.

"The escalating rhetorical tiff with the US has come at a very sensitive juncture - just when we are starting to negotiate with China the parameters of a potential modus vivendi in the West Philippine Sea.

"Any tension in US-Philippine ties, whether you want it or not, will weaken Manila's bargaining position when it deals with Beijing, which will surely relish any erosion in the country's alliance with the superpower."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 14, 2016, with the headline 'Philippines not cutting ties with its allies: Duterte'. Print Edition | Subscribe