US reaffirms commitment to defense alliance
Jose Katigbak (The Philippine Star) - September 14, 2016 - 12:00am

WASHINGTON – The United States remains committed to its defense alliance with the Philippines, the State Department said yesterday even as it declined to comment on President Duterte’s call for the withdrawal of US Special Forces from Mindanao.

State Department spokesman John Kirby said Manila has not communicated through official channels Duterte’s call for the pullout of US forces from Mindanao supposedly for their safety from Islamist militants.

Kirby said it was unwise to make defense relationship decisions based on press reporting of comments.

“We’re going to remain committed to our alliance in the Philippines and to that country. We have a long, productive history with the Philippines. It’s not a history without its past troubles, but we’re committed to our alliance with the Philippines and we look forward to working our way through that,” he told a news conference.

Kirby said if and when an official communication from the Philippines on US forces in Mindanao is communicated, it would be up to the Pentagon to look into the matter.

In reply to a query, he said Duterte’s controversial remarks appeared to have had no specific impact on communications between the two countries.

“As far as I know, that communication continues unabated. I think we’ve already talked about, from the podium, some of the unhelpful comments that were made by the President. We’ve been honest about that and forthright as friends and allies should do,” Kirby said. “But again, this is a – we still believe in the importance of this bilateral relationship. We still believe in the commitments we have from a security perspective under that alliance and we’re going to continue to meet those.”

In Manila, US embassy Press Attache Molly Koscina said in a text message to The STAR: “We have not been contacted by Philippine authorities regarding these statements.”

If Duterte presses through with his demand, analysts said it could impact on the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) between the two countries.

Last March, the outgoing Aquino administration agreed under EDCA to allow the US use of five Philippine military sites where US troops can be stationed on a rotational basis amid rising tensions with China over the latter’s excessive claims in the South China Sea.

The EDCA, valid for an initial 10 years, grants Washington increased military presence in its former colony through rotation of ships and planes for humanitarian and maritime security operations. It allows US soldiers, warships and planes to temporarily base in Filipino military facilities.

Since Duterte took office in June, relations between both countries have been anything but smooth.

He called the US ambassador gay and threatened to curse President Barack Obama to his face if the latter would bring up human rights issue at the ASEAN summit.

He has said the US has no right to interfere in Philippine domestic affairs as US has its own record of rights abuses especially during the Filipino-American war in 1898. - With Pia Lee- Brago

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