Duterte explains stance on US relations, wants American military out

Following a string of contrasting remarks regarding the shape and future of Filipino-U.S. relations, Philippines president, Rodrigo Duterte, on Friday sought to clarify his previous comments through an emphasis on charting an independent course for the Philippines.

Underlining the long-standing relationship Manila and Washington has enjoyed, Duterte stressed Filipino foreign policy did not always require complete harmony with the U.S. as it had in the past.

“As in separation, what I was really saying was separation of foreign policy.  In the past, and until I became president, we always follow what the United States would give the cue,” he told reporters at a Davao press conference.

“It is not severance of ties. When you say severance of ties, you cut diplomatic relations. I cannot do that.  It’s in the best interest of my countrymen to maintain that relationship.”

Over the past two weeks, Duterte has told President Obama to “go to hell”, ostensibly over Mr. Obama’s criticism of Filipino anti-drug operations, reversed himself telling reporters his intent to honor negotiated military pacts with Washington, then later pivoted again during a visit to Beijing where he announced his separation from the U.S.

A U.S. official responded to the conflicting remarks, saying the American government was “baffled.”

The two nations cemented relations in the wake of World War II with the Mutual Defense Treaty in 1951 and the bonds of affection flourished during the 21-year rule of strongman Ferdinand Marcos.

Often engaging in joint military exercises, the U.S. long maintained large military installations at Clark Air Base and the Naval Base at Subic Bay.  Both facilities were operated by the U.S. until 1991 and 1992 when the Pentagon turned over the bases to the Philippine government.

The two nations have cooperated extensively in trade and the War on Terror and recently discussed an increased U.S. military presence on the archipelago to blunt China.

After a Monday visit by U.S. Assistant Secretary of State, Daniel Russel, Duterte said Tuesday, “I do not want to see any military man of any other nation except the Filipino. That’s the only thing I want.”

President Duterte was referring to the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement, signed in 2014, which allows U.S. troops to be stationed in the Philippines on a rotational basis and for the American military to build infrastructure on Filipino bases.

 

[Reuters] [Politico] [Photo courtesy AFP Photo/Noel Celis via Yahoo News]