John Kerry says confident on Philippines ties, hopes to visit again

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte (right) greeting US Ambassador to the Philippines Philip S. Goldberg (left) as US Secretary of State John Kerry looks on during his visit to the Malacanang presidential palace in Manila on July 27, 2016. PHOTO: AFP

WASHINGTON (REUTERS) - US Secretary of State John Kerry said on Thursday (Nov 3) he remained confident about the future of the US-Philippines relationship in spite of "a difference here or there" and that he hoped to visit Manila again before leaving office.

New Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has thrown Manila's long-standing alliance with Washington into question since taking office in June with a series of insults and threats to cut ties with the former colonial power.

Speaking at a swearing-in ceremony for the new US ambassador to the Philippines, Sung Kim, Kerry stressed the depth of ties and called the alliance between the two peoples"indelible."

Kerry recalled shared resistance to Japan in World War Two and noted that nearly four million people of Philippine descent live in the United States, whilst almost a quarter of a million Americans live in the Philippines.

"I am confident about the future of our bilateral relations, notwithstanding a difference here or there about one thing or another," he said.

Kerry did not mention Duterte by name but said all needed to have the wisdom to adjust to change brought about by democratic elections.

He noted that Sung Kim had tackled "some really tough, complex challenges" in the past, given his previous assignments dealing with North Korea.

Kerry said the United States and the Philippines would"continue to consult openly and honestly on issues of impact to both of our countries" and added: "I very much hope to visit there before leaving my term of office as secretary of state."

Kerry's term officially ends on Jan 20 after the Nov 8 US election, although he could be asked to stay on temporarily under the future administration.

Kerry said he told Duterte on a visit to the Philippines in July that Washington continued to recognise its "ironclad commitment to the sovereignty and independence and security of the Philippines."

"We will continue to cooperate in efforts to maintain peace and stability and to promote shared prosperity in the Asia Pacific," Kerry said, adding Washington would continue to assist the Philippine people in the event of national emergencies.

Daniel Russel, the senior US diplomat for East Asia, who visited the Philippines last month, conceded that the relationship was "going through a bit of a rough patch - some growing pains.

"There been some name-calling coming out of Manila; some questions raised about what the future holds," he told a news briefing.

"But ... the deep, deep roots between the United States and the Philippines ... will over the long term ensure stability in the relationship."

Russel, an assistant secretary of state, said all the senior officials he met in Manila told him they saw value in continued defense cooperation and he was not aware of any action that had "significantly affected our ability to cooperate."

"I am not saying that can't happen, but I hope it doesn't,"he said.

In his latest outburst, Duterte chided the United States on Wednesday for the halt of a planned sale of 26,000 rifles to his country, calling those behind the decision "fools" and "monkeys"and indicating he might turn to Russia and China instead.

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