PRESIDENT Rodrigo Duterte on Tuesday shot back at a top American diplomat who asked him to tone down his fiery rhetoric, which he said was causing “growing concern” around the world, telling the visiting envoy that the US should not treat the Philippines “like a dog on a leash.”
Before embarking on a three-day official visit to Japan, Duterte dismissed the possibility of having military alliances with any country other than the United States, but said he was keen to rescind the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement that the country signed with Washington.
After Foreign Secretary Perfecto Yasay briefed him on the remarks of visiting US Assistant Secretary of State Daniel Russel, Duterte said the Americans had started the war by threatening to cut off US assistance as a result of human rights violations committed under his administration.
“You tell them, you sons of bitches, don’t treat us like a dog,” he said in Filipino. “Don’t put us on a leash then throw us scraps that we can’t reach.”
“Every time they threaten us, including the European Union, you’d think they’re brighter than we are. Then they tell me, ‘Be careful, we will put you in prison. Son of a bitch, you try it,” he said again in Filipino, responding to threats from the International Criminal Court.
Duterte also took Russel’s statements as a challenge to the Philippines.
“Then leave the country. We will persevere. We will recover, I assure you. We will live,” he said.
“I didn’t start this fight. They started it.”
He noted that before the May elections, he was called out by two foreign ambassadors for his comments on the jailhouse rape of a foreign missionary during a 1989 prison riot.
On Monday, Russel said the series of Duterte’s “controversial statements” against the US have caused uncertainty and “consternation” among some countries, not only his own.
Russel also said the President’s remarks were a growing concern not only among governments, but in communities such as the expat Filipino community, and in corporate boardrooms.
“This is not a positive trend,” he warned.
Duterte during his visit to Beijing has declared that he wanted to “separate” from the country’s top trading partner and long-time ally, the United States.
Russel was here to seek an explanation of Duterte’s remarks from the Philippine government.
In an interview with Japanese media on Monday, Duterte said that he has no plan to forge a military alliance with any country other than the United States, playing down concerns over his veering toward China.
“There should be no worry about changes of alliances. I do not need to have alliances with other nations,” he said.
But Duterte also said he doesn’t want to see soldiers of any foreign power on Philippine soil.
In this regard, he said he wanted to rescind the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement, an executive agreement that gives the US military rights to use and build on Philippine military bases.
“Well, forget it. If I stay here long enough, one day that Edca will, if it’s an executive agreement, then I will just,” Duterte said without finishing his sentence, then making a gesture as if sweeping something away.
“That’s the long and short of it. I want an independent policy that doesn’t follow anyone,” he added.
Duterte had earlier questioned the validity of the Edca because it did not bear the signature of former President Benigno Aquino III.
The agreement was signed by then-Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin and outgoing US Ambassador to the Philippines Philip Goldberg.
In the same speech, Duterte denied that he made any deals with China during his trip there last week.
“They’re so quick to give malice. All we talked about in China was how to cook siopao and chopsuey,” he added.
Goldberg said Tuesday the US wants to remain involved in the campaign to quell Islamic militancy in Mindanao, after Duterte threatened to kick out American forces.
Goldberg said the security threat in the conflict-plagued region was “very serious,” warning the Islamic State was among a number of foreign militant organization trying to increase its involvement there.
“We’ve helped the Philippines as it has reduced the threat over time,” Goldberg told ABS-CBN television.
“But we are concerned obviously about any new intrusion of ISIS [Islamic State group] or any other group that wants to take advantage of open space in the south of the Philippines. So we want to continue doing that.”
The United States had deployed from 2002 to 2014 a rotating force of about 600 troops in Mindanao to train Filipino soldiers.
The presence was scaled down after the United States deemed the militants there had “largely devolved into disorganized groups resorting to criminal undertakings,” a US statement in 2014 said.
Islamic militant attacks spiked after that, most prominently with the homegrown Abu Sayyaf group abducting dozens of foreigners and locals to extort ransoms.
About 100 American troops remain in the south, Goldberg said on Tuesday.
But Duterte, who took office on June 30, has said they are adding to tensions with the Islamic communities in Mindanao.
“These US special forces, they have to go in Mindanao,” Duterte said last month.
Duterte, who describes himself as a socialist and part Muslim, has called for the ejection of US troops as part of a general effort to dilute his nation’s 70-year alliance with the United States.
Islamic militants have waged a decades-long separatist insurgency in Mindanao that has claimed more than 120,000 lives.
The region is the ancestral homeland of the Muslim minority in the mainly Catholic Philippines.
The major rebel organizations are no longer waging armed struggle, but harder-line splinter groups such as the Abu Sayyaf have remained a threat.
Goldberg warned that Jemaah Islamiyah, the Southeast Asian group responsible for the deadly 2002 bombings on the Indonesian resort island of Bali, and other foreigners were in Mindanao.
“This is a very serious issue,” Goldberg said.
“We are not just dealing with Abu Sayyaf but groups from the region like Jemaah Islamiyah. We see increasing efforts from ISIS to become involved.” With AFP
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