Philippines not cutting ties with US – Duterte
Alexis Romero (The Philippine Star) - September 14, 2016 - 12:00am

But wants ‘paradigm shift’

MANILA, Philippines – Despite his latest railings against the United States, President Duterte said yesterday the Philippines is not about to cut its security ties with Washington or with other allies.

“We are not going to cut our umbilical cord with the countries we are allied with,” Duterte said in remarks at the 48th anniversary of the 250th Presidential Airlift Wing in Villamor Air Base.

“We are not cutting our alliances – military (alliances) as well. But certainly, we will follow an independent posture and independent foreign policy,” he added, while stressing the need for what he called a paradigm shift in the country’s dealing with allies.

Duterte’s assurance came a day after he called for the withdrawal of US troops in Mindanao – supposedly to keep them from being killed or kidnapped by the terror group Abu Sayyaf.

Later in the evening yesterday, Duterte said the Philippines should be “everybody’s friend.”

“I’m not anti-American. We’re not severing our military ties. It has been there. Who am I to abrogate (the alliance)? What I’m saying is we’re following an independent (foreign policy),” the President said.

Duterte admitted he resented being publicly criticized by the US and the United Nations for the rising deaths in his vicious drug crackdown.

“Now that I’m the president, you should be careful. If you want to lecture on me, don’t do it in public,” the President said.

“If you want to criticize me, bring it to the UN and allow me to answer,” he added. “I’m not your subordinate. I’m not your employee. If you do that to me, I’ll really curse you. Who are you to lecture me?”

The firebrand leader launched more verbal salvos on Monday about what he called atrocities under the American colonial rule. He said the continued presence of US troops in Mindanao is complicating counter-insurgency operations.

“With regard to drugs, I’ve been at the receiving end (of criticisms). You know that. It could be funny to look at… You know, we could never be just a small country (that can be) shouted at or lectured upon by any foreign country or by any president,” the President said.

“As I said, in my quest for what is right for my country, I’m putting at stake my honor, my life and the presidency,” he added.

The acid-tongued Duterte believes the US cannot preach about human rights because it is also guilty of atrocities like the massacre of about 1,000 Muslims in Bud Dajo in Sulu in 1906. He also pointed out numerous cases of killings of African-Americans by US law enforcers.

“(If we) have to address human rights problems, then we have to discuss the entire gamut and dimension,” Duterte said.

He also cited a massacre by US soldiers of male Filipinos 10 years and above in Balangiga, Samar in 1901. The American attackers also took away the town’s church bells as war booty after the bloodbath.

“They got the bell. Until now, they hijacked it, stole it and never returned it to us,” Duterte said.

White House spokesman Josh Earnest on Monday, meanwhile, emphasized shared concerns and interests with the Philippines, then took a thinly veiled swipe at Duterte, who won a May election by a big margin, appearing to compare him to outspoken Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump.

“Elections do say a lot about what kind of person is going to represent your country on the international stage...” he told reporters.

Not yet a policy

Malacañang sought to downplay Duterte’s call for US forces’ withdrawal from Mindanao, saying it is not yet a policy and does not indicate that the Philippines is turning its back on a major ally.

Presidential spokesman Ernesto Abella said the President merely issued an “injunction” and a “warning” about the risks Americans face in Mindanao.

“Those statements are not policies set in stone,” he said in a press briefing.

“These are backgrounders for possible future action. There’s a difference,” he added.

Abella admitted though that Duterte’s remarks were “layered” and could be interpreted in several ways.

“It serves as notice. That really, the reason there’s trouble here is because of that presence (of the US troops),” he said.

When reminded that every statement of the President can be perceived as a policy, Abella replied: “It’s not automatically policy but it is a basis of policy.”

He stressed the Philippines would continue to honor agreements with the US like the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) and the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA).

EDCA grants the US access to some Philippine bases while VFA allows American troops to base in the Philippines and hold joint exercises with Filipino soldiers on rotational basis.

“We’re not turning back on anybody. We are just charting an independent course,” the spokesman said.

There are less than 200 American soldiers in Mindanao, according to a ranking military official who declined to be identified.

Foreign Affairs Secretary Perfecto Yasay also clarified Duterte’s message to US troops was not an indication of policy shift.

“He (Duterte) specifically said this in his inaugural speech first and foremost he will respect all treaty agreements or arrangements with any nation, including America, including the EDCA which the Supreme Court held as valid,” Yasay said in an interview on ANC’s “Headstart.”

He explained the President was concerned about the safety of US troops in Mindanao.

“I would like to assure our Filipino people that there’s no shift insofar as our policy is concerned with respect to our close friendship with the Americans,” he stressed.

Leaders of militant groups met with Duterte after he was sworn into office in June and called for a review of the EDCA, the VFA, and the Mutual Defense Treaty.

Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana also said the President merely wanted the Americans out of harm’s way when he announced Monday that he wanted US troops out of Mindanao.

“I clarified this with the President last night (Monday). He said he is not forcing the US troops out of Mindanao,” Lorenzana said. He said Muslims still bitter about the massacre of their ancestors by American soldiers in the early 1900s might try to harm American forces in Mindanao.

“What he intended to say was that the US troops might want to pull out as their safety might be in danger from reprisals of the Muslims that the atrocities of the US military in the early 1900s have been brought to light again.”

Rock solid

AFP spokesperson Brig. Gen. Restituto Padilla echoed Lorenzana’s statement.

“We take due notice of the pronouncement of the Commander-in-Chief President Duterte expressing his concern for the safety of US servicemen in Mindanao,” Padilla said.

“We assure our people and allies that PH-US defense relations remain rock solid. Activities lined up for the year continue without interruption. Consultative planning activities for 2017 and beyond likewise remain on track,” he added.

Padilla admitted they have yet to receive specific instructions on how to carry out the President’s declaration.

“We have yet to receive any specific directive as to how this pronouncement will be effected. We understand that the implementation of the said pronouncement is the subject of deliberations by concerned departments like DND (Department of National Defense) and DFA to mention some,” he explained.

He stressed “the recent pronouncement will affect only a token number of American servicemen who are confined mainly in Zamboanga City.”

“They provide technical assistance and training to their Filipino counterparts in combatting terrorism in the Philippines. The number has dwindled following the deactivation and pullout of JSOTF-P several years ago,” added Padilla, referring to Joint Special Operations Task Force - Philippines.

Originally, military officials said there were 107 US soldiers in Zamboanga City but when the JSOTF-P pulled out, only 60 were left behind. - With Pia Lee-Brago, Cecille Suerte Felipe

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