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US warns Duterte: ‘No free pass’ on cusswords

THE US State Department said that no head of state would get a free pass on “unhelpful rhetoric” but said Philippine-American ties remain strong, even after President Rodrigo Duterte told US President Barack Obama to go to hell.

“I do not want to get into a tit-for-tat with President Duterte,” State Department spokesman Mark C. Toner said at a briefing. “I would simply say that we have a very strong bilateral relationship and a very strong people-to-people relationship.”

READ MY LIPS. A defiant President Rodrigo Duterte, in this recent file photo, continues unbridled in his series of tirades against Washington, sparked by US criticism of increasing deaths linked to his unflagging anti-illegal drugs campaign. He has said he could get weapons from Russia and China, seen by analysts as being at odds with the warm ties between the two allies. John Paolo Bencito

Asked about Duterte’s plan to move closer to China and Russia, Toner said good relations with the Philippines were not an either-or proposition.

“We value our relations with the Philippines. They’re a strong ally, a strong partner in the region. Again, we’ve had decades of strong relations with the Philippines. We’ve had each other’s backs and we want to continue that cooperation going forward. Public comments, rhetoric aside, we believe that the foundation still exists for that relationship to continue and strengthen,” he said.

Toner added that Duterte may “still be forming his policies” since he’s only been in office for a few months.

“I’m not going to speak to the course he may take. All I can speak to is the current state of our relations, and government to government, people to people, they remain strong,” he said.

Toner said, however, that the US would continue speaking out against human rights abuses.

“Whenever we see or hear of credible allegations of human rights abuses, we’re never going to give that a pass,” Toner said.

Duterte on Tuesday refused to back down, despite suggestions from his allies that he be more circumspect.

To make his point, he launched into new tirades against critics of his bloody anti-illegal drugs campaign, telling Obama to “go to hell” and the European Union “to choose purgatory” because hell was already full.

“They’re telling me to stop making noises. No, I cannot stop. I’ll lose the momentum,” Duterte said during the Sulong Pilipinas Local Governance dialogues at Makati City. 

Senator Panfilo Lacson said the President was making statements that could hurt the country.

“These are unnecessary comments, [like] that go to hell [remark]. For what? But the impact on the other party, that’s too serious,” Lacson said. 

Senator Ralph Recto said Duterte’s recent tirade against Obama will again reflect poorly on the country. 

“Unfortunately, we may all pay the price for our President’s offensive statements,” Recto said in a text message. 

Senator Richard Gordon, who earlier suggested that Duterte stop talking about his plan to kill drug pushers, said he was just trying to help the President and the country become successful.

“Let us pray for him for greater leadership. No question from us about his war on drugs, just the implementation and the noise,” Gordon said.

Senator Antonio Trillanes IV, a critic of Duterte, said some military officers have expressed concern over the President’s threats to cut ties with the United States, but said by and large, the Armed Forces were supportive of the President and loyal to the chain of command.

Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said Wednesday that the President might have been fed with wrong information about the state of the Philippines’ joint military exercises and defense agreements with the United States, amid his pronouncements that he would cut off war games and other military ties with the United States. 

“After we assess this, we will be able to give the President good information so that he may also assess well...because it seems he is misinformed right now...perhaps, he has not been informed that there is a benefit to it,” Lorenzana said in an ANC television interview. 

“Perhaps, the President just needs correct information so that his pronouncements are according to the facts,” he added. 

To appease China, Duterte declared an end to the joint war games that the Philippines jointly conducts with its longest strategic defense ally, the United States—saying that the scheduled military exercises by October would be the last.

“You are scheduled to hold war games again, which China does not want. I would serve notice to you now that this will be the last military exercise. Jointly, Philippines-US, the last one,” Duterte said. 

Lorenzana, who met last week with US Defense chief Ashton Carter, said he would meet with Armed Forces of the Philippines officials to assess these exercises and defense pacts with the US.

US officials said the President’s threat to cancel the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement has not “translated into actions” and said the alliance between the two countries remains stable.

“In as much as our alliance with the Philippines is concerned, it’s very much solid and stable and secure and on track,” Pentagon spokesman Jeff Davis said. With Macon Ramos-Araneta and John Paolo Bencito

Topics: President Rodrigo Duterte , President Barack Obama , US State Department , Mark C. Toner , Philippine-American ties , China , Russia
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