MANILA • The Philippines' military chief hailed the United States as his nation's "No. 1 ally" and announced a return of regular war games, following President Rodrigo Duterte's call for warmer ties.
Mr Duterte last week vowed to be "friendly" with the US, signalling an end to relentless criticism that included a vow to end all joint military exercises and branding then US President Barack Obama a "son of a whore".
Military chief Eduardo Ano, returning from Hawaii, where he met US Pacific Command chief Harry Harris last week, said yesterday that the allies had agreed to increase joint military exercises for next year after they were scaled down this year.
"The President said, 'I want to be friendlier to the US.' So we have a closer relationship and more exercises," General Ano told reporters in Manila. "He (Mr Duterte) said to continue engagement with the United States. They are still our No. 1 ally."
Gen Ano said the joint exercises next year would focus on counter-terrorism, disaster response and even territorial defence.
As he had sought to loosen his nation's alliance with the US, Mr Duterte also looked to build warmer relations with China and Russia.
During a visit to Beijing a year ago, he announced his nation's "separation" from the US.
He later explained that he was angry at Mr Obama for criticising his war on drugs, which has since seen thousands killed and led rights groups to warn that Mr Duterte may be orchestrating a crime against humanity.
NATIONAL INTEREST COMES FIRST
The US is not our enemy. China is not our enemy. Our utmost priority is the interest of the country.
GENERAL EDUARDO ANO, the Philippines' military chief.
Mr Duterte said last week the dispute was "water under the bridge" as he thanked the US for helping the Philippines fight Islamic militants who have occupied parts of the southern city of Marawi since May 23. The US has provided intelligence, weapons and training to local forces trying to retake Marawi.
The fighting has claimed more than 900 lives and raised fears that the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria group is trying to establish a South-east Asian base in the Philippines.
Gen Ano said yesterday that the Philippines would still pursue closer defence ties with China.
Gen Ano was speaking at a ceremony in which China turned over 3,000 assault rifles and ammunition worth 168 million pesos (S$4.4 million) with the aim of helping the Philippine military fight terrorism.
But Defence Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said the Chinese weapons would go instead to the Philippine National Police, which needs to fill a shortfall of guns after some US legislators blocked the sale of about 26,000 M4 rifles to the police last year. This is the second shipment of rifles from China to the Philippines this year.
"The US is not our enemy. China is not our enemy. Our utmost priority is the interest of the country," Gen Ano said.
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS