Duterte threatens to scrap US defence pact again

Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida (left) welcoming Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte to a dinner yesterday at a restaurant in Tokyo. Mr Duterte has arrived in Japan for an official three-day visit.
Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida (left) welcoming Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte to a dinner yesterday at a restaurant in Tokyo. Mr Duterte has arrived in Japan for an official three-day visit.PHOTO: EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY

Comments follow declaration of separation from America and come as he visits its ally Japan

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has again threatened to scrap a bilateral defence pact with the United States, resuming his anti-US rants a day after Assistant Secretary of State Daniel Russel's stop in Manila.

"You have the Edca. Well, forget it. If I stay here long enough, one day that Edca will… If it is an executive agreement then I will just…" he said, gesturing to show he could rescind it.

The 10-year Enhanced Defence Cooperation Agreement (Edca), inked in 2014, allows the US to rotate troops and to have conditional access to Philippine bases. It was heralded as a key element of US President Barack Obama's strategic rebalance to Asia.

"I look forward to the time when I no longer see any military troops or soldiers in my country, except Filipino soldiers… Especially in the matter of stationing military troops in my country, I really hate it. I don't want it. I don't need it. We're not going to war," he said yesterday.

Mr Duterte first threatened to scrap the defence deal in one of his anti-US rants early this month.

His comments yesterday marked another perplexing shift for the volatile leader.

He declared while in Beijing last week that his country was separating from the US, his nation's treaty ally since 1951, only to clarify days later that he was not cutting diplomatic ties.

In an interview with Japan's Kyodo News on Monday, he backpedalled further. "The alliances are alive; it is there. There should be no worry about changes of alliances. I do not need to have alliances with other nations," he said.

He added that, as far as relations with the US are concerned, "nothing has changed".

These remarks came after US Secretary of State John Kerry spoke to Philippine Foreign Minister Perfecto Yasay on Sunday, expressing concern about Mr Duterte's tone towards the US.

State Department spokesman John Kirby said the phone call led Mr Kerry to feel the US and the Philippines "can work through this".

Mr Duterte's latest about-turn came yesterday as he was about to board a plane for a three-day official visit to Japan.

Reacting to comments made by Mr Russel on Monday and holding a Philippine newspaper with the headline, "Duterte sparking international distress - US", he said: "Those idiots' malice really flies thick and fast."

He then slammed the US on several fronts. These included an incident when US Embassy officials questioned his intentions when he applied for a visa to visit a girlfriend in the United States.

Mr Duterte continued his tirade in Tokyo.

Challenging US officials who have called him out on more than 3,500 extra-judicial killings by police and vigilantes that have marred his anti-crime drive, he told a gathering of Filipinos in Japan: "If you have the evidence, go ahead and file the case. I can rot in prison for my country."

He said the US should stop treating his country "like a dog on a leash, hungry for scraps".

His latest swipe could rattle US ally Japan, the Philippines' top trading partner and biggest provider of development aid.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe wants to keep ties with the Philippines tight, especially after seeing how Mr Duterte has cosied up to China.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 26, 2016, with the headline 'Duterte threatens to scrap US defence pact again'. Print Edition | Subscribe