Manila reassures US ties to remain after Duterte remark

Top Philippines diplomat says no policy shift despite president calling for US forces to withdraw from south Mindanao

Manila reassures US ties to remain after Duterte remark

World Bulletin / News Desk

The Philippines’ top diplomat clarified Tuesday that there will be no policy shift in the country's alliance with the United States after President Rodrigo Duterte called for U.S. special forces to withdraw from the archipelago’s troubled south.

The U.S. -- the Philippines’ long-time ally and former colonizer -- deployed special forces soldiers to the southern region of Mindanao in 2002 to train and advise local units fighting the Abu Sayyaf, but the program -- which once involved 1,200 Americans -- was discontinued in 2015, although a small presence has remained.

Foreign Affairs Secretary Perfecto Yasay Jr. insisted that Duterte’s statement was meant to protect U.S. troops from kidnapping threats posed by the Daesh-linked group rather than a declaration of policy change.

“I would like to assure our Filipino people, there is no shift in so far as our policy is concerned, with respect to our close friendship with the Americans,” he told news broadcaster ABS-CBN.

Yasay also assured that the president would respect the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) signed by the two countries to allow the U.S. military to rotate troops in the Philippines while building and operating facilities at bases.

“He will respect all treaty agreements or arrangement with any nations, including America, including the EDCA, which the Supreme Court held as valid,” he said.

On Monday, Duterte warned that the U.S. military presence would worsen conditions in the conflict-ridden southern island of Mindanao -- where several armed Muslim groups, including those involved in an ongoing peace process with the government, and a communist insurgency operate.

Referring to the Abu Sayyaf, he said the militant group would capture, demand ransoms for and kill any American they captured.

He also accused the U.S. of being a “hypocrite”, and presented a photo depicting American troops near piles of dead Moro Muslims -- including naked women -- during the 1906 Bud Dajo massacre in which around 1,000 locals were reportedly killed in southern Sulu province -- an Abu Sayyaf bastion.

“Look at the bodies there... For as long as we stay with America, we will never have peace in that land. We might as well give it up," Duterte said.

The comments come days after a controversial expletive-laden statement made prior to his trip to Laos for the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN)-East Asia Summit, during which Duterte lashed out at U.S. President Barack Obama for his perceived meddling in his government's crackdown on drug traffickers, pushers and peddlers.

The remarks caused the cancelation of their planned bilateral meeting on the sidelines of the summit.

Over the weekend, Duterte declared that his administration will adopt an “independent foreign policy”, after having earlier threatened to pull the Philippines out of the United Nations following criticism of his campaign against illegal drugs, which has seen the killing of more than 2,000 suspects.

On Tuesday, Presidential spokesman Ernesto Abella assured Duterte was not severing ties with the international community with his directive for an "independent foreign policy”.

"He wants full and equal partnership with other nations," Abella told local radio station DZMM. “We are not isolating ourselves. We are only saying that we are coming out of the shadows of other big nations. We are our own selves."

Duterte is the first Philippines president from Mindanao, and has vowed to prioritize the development of the mineral-rich but impoverished region -- where indigenous peoples have long felt oppressed by what they see as Imperial Manila.

He has also made overtures toward the Muslim rebels groups -- with the exception of the Abu Sayyaf -- and communist movements operating in Mindanao.

Since 1991, the Abu Sayyaf -- armed with mostly improvised explosive devices, mortars and automatic rifles -- has carried out bombings, kidnappings, assassinations and extortion in a self-determined fight for an independent province in the Philippines.

It is one of two militant groups in the south to have pledged allegiance to Daesh, prompting fears during the stalling of a peace process between the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front that it could make inroads in a region torn by decades of armed conflict.

Güncelleme Tarihi: 13 Eylül 2016, 11:01