War games scheduled after flip-flop by Duterte

MANILA • The Philippines and the US have scheduled military drills next month in the South-east Asian nation, the US embassy in Manila said. This comes days after President Rodrigo Duterte acknowledged his country did need American troops in the South China Sea.

About 1,400 United States servicemen based in Okinawa, Japan, and 500 Philippine Armed Forces personnel will conduct an amphibious-landing exercise and live-fire training in multiple locations on the main island of Luzon and in Palawan, according to a statement on the embassy's on Saturday.

The drills, aimed at making troops better prepared to operate together during a natural disaster or armed conflict, are set for Oct 4 to 12.

Mr Duterte has sent conflicting messages about Philippine foreign policy since he was sworn in in June, sowing confusion at a time of rising concern about China's claims to most of the South China Sea.

The former mayor of Davao last week acknowledged that his country needed American troops after earlier calling for the end of joint patrols in the strategic waterway. The US alliance with the Philippines has for decades been a bedrock of American influence in the region.

"Exchanging expertise and cultivating our longstanding security alliance provides a cornerstone for security and stability in the region, and has for decades," Brigadier-General John Jansen, Commanding General, 3rd Marine Expeditionary Brigade, said in the statement.

Mr Duterte has proved to be unpredictable, as well as blunt and provocative, in his opening weeks in office, and has often made conflicting statements. These included remarks on whether the Philippines intends to negotiate with China over territory in the South China Sea, a region in which Manila also has claims.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 26, 2016, with the headline 'War games scheduled after flip-flop by Duterte'. Print Edition | Subscribe