MANILA (REUTERS) - The president of the Philippines wants to liberate his country from a "shackling dependency" on the United States, which cannot guarantee help when Philippine sovereignty is under threat, its foreign minister has said.
Foreign Affairs Secretary Perfecto Yasay, in the most forceful show of accord from a top official with President Rodrigo Duterte's tough anti-American stance, said the president was "compelled to realign" Philippine foreign policy and not submit to US demands and interests.
"Breaking away from the shackling dependency of the Philippines to effectively address both internal and external security threats has become imperative in putting an end to our nation's subservience to United States' interests," Mr Yasay said in a Facebook post.
Mr Yasay's assessment of US ties follows a diplomatic storm over Mr Duterte's declarations over the past eight days that joint US-Philippines military exercises would cease, a defence agreement would be reviewed and at an undisclosed time, he might "break up" with the United States.
On Monday (Oct 3), Mr Duterte said US President Barack Obama should"go to hell", the latest rebuke stemming from US concern about Mr Duterte's deadly war on drugs.
On Thursday (Oct 6), Duterte said the United States and European Union should withdraw their assistance to the Philippines if they were unhappy with his crackdown.
Mr Yasay, a former securities regulator and lawyer who practiced in the United States, said the Philippines would be forever grateful to its former colonial ruler for "many significant countless things" over their decades-old alliance, but it remained underdeveloped and weak militarily.
He said that in the South China Sea, the United States could not guarantee it would help the Philippines protect its sovereignty, as it is bound to by a 1951 treaty between them.
"Our defensive forces remain grossly incapable in meeting the security threats that we face from potential foes, not to mention their stagnating impact on our development," Mr Yasay said. "Worse is that our only ally could not give us the assurance that in taking a hard line towards the enforcement of our sovereignty rights under international law, it will promptly come to our defence under our existing military treaty and agreements."
Mr Yasay's tone contrasted sharply with that of Defence Secretary Delfin Lorenzana, who on Wednesday said Mr Duterte may have been misinformed when he said US-Philippine military exercises were of no benefit to his country.
The Philippines won an arbitration ruling in July by a tribunal in The Hague, which declared invalid China's expansive claims in the South China Sea. Manila's relations with Beijing have been strained over the case.
Since independence from the United States 70 years ago, it had never allowed the "little brown brothers" of the Philippines to become truly free, Mr Yasay said.
The Philippines would seek to engage with China, Mr Yasay said, and would be mindful of the lessons it had learned from being too close to Washington. "Our past mistakes in fostering and strengthening our friendship with our white big brother will be instructive for this purpose," he said.
Ms Molly Koscina, a spokeswoman for the US embassy, said Mr Yasay's posting ran counter to the close relations between people of the two countries. "We have seen the post. We've already spoken to this sort of rhetoric," Ms Koscina told reporters. "Frankly, it seems at odds with the warm relationship that exists between the Filipino and American people."