THE US State Department said Tuesday that Washington will not interfere with President Rodrigo Duterte’s decision to pursue alliances or partnerships with China and Russia, but said it would regard the Philippines as a strategic ally until they hear otherwise.
“With regard to them pursuing alliances or partnerships with China and Russia, they’re a sovereign nation and we’re certainly not going to hold them back from pursuing closer relations with either of those countries. And it’s not a zero-sum game,” US State Department deputy spokesperson Mark Toner said in a press briefing at Washington.
“We believe that we can remain a close friend and partner with the Philippines. It’s one of our most enduring bilateral relationships within the Asia-Pacific region and it’s been a cornerstone of stability for 70 years. And again, we’re going to keep up that cooperation until we hear otherwise,” he added.
On Monday, Duterte said that he was about to cross a “point of no return” in the Philippines’ relationship with the United States, asking America’s rivals, Russia and China to help the country.
“I’m about to cross the Rubicon between me and the United States, at least for six years,” he said, referring to his meeting with Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Mevdevev. He said he would need Russian help “and everything.”
The President had earlier said he wanted to buy arms from Russia and China after the two countries enticed him with attractive loan offers to buy military armaments that he wanted to fight terrorism and the insurgency in the country’s south.
Foreign Affairs Secretary Perfecto Yasay on Tuesday said that the Philippine government will not be rescinding its commitments to its long-term strategic ally, the United States, insisting that the President simply wants to take independent foreign policy, which is mandated in the Constitution.
Toner said that the US would continue to work closely with the Philippines in many of its mutual interests, including counterterrorism and economic development.
He added, however, that the United States wasn’t deaf to the continued anti-American slurs from Duterte.
“I did say a couple weeks ago, especially after his remarks with—or alleged remarks regarding President Obama, that words do matter. We’re not deaf; we do hear what he says,” Toner said. With Sandy Araneta
Duterte had earlier questioned the US-Philippine alliance, which goes back to more than 65 years, suggesting that the United States will not come to the assistance of the Philippines in a military conflict started by China in the disputed waters.
Toner declined to make a categorical statement about Duterte’s accusations, saying, however, that the US would continue its relations with the Philippines.
“Well, again, I haven’t seen those specific comments, so it’s hard for me to react to them. I guess I would say, arguing with the premise, is that the United States has a strong security presence in the Asia-Pacific region, but we’re certainly not looking to start military action against anyone,” he said.
“I would just say that our cooperation with the Philippine government remains strong and unabated, so we continue to engage in close cooperation, as I said, on a number of areas of interest,” Toner said, adding that there seemed to be a disconnect between Duterte’s words and how both sides continued to work together.
In a press briefing, Yasay played down Duterte’s promise to have an alliance with China by next year.
“It should not be understood as meaning that we are veering away from our commitments with the US or our close friendship with the US, which is very strong... We have agreed that we will move forward to strengthen even this relationship in the future,” he added.
During his meeting with Washington officials, Yasay reiterated the country’s position to pursue bilateral talks with China as a means to resolve the country’s ongoing sea row.
“At this point... it is not in our national interest to pursue multilateral negotiations with other countries who are not involved in... our dispute,” Yasay said.
In the same press briefing, Yasay said the President has not issued any conflicting statements following a proposal in the Senate to conduct an inquiry into his administration’s position on foreign policy.
“I do not think that there is any conflict in so far as the statements of our President is concerned. The President has always been consistent in explaining that in carrying out an independent foreign policy, we should always pursue the paramount national interest,” Yasay said.
Noting inconsistencies in Duterte’s declarations, Senator Paolo Benigno Aquino IV called for an inquiry into the President’s foreign policy direction to protect the national interest.
But Yasay said Duterte has always been consistent.
“The President said that other nations must respect our right in so far as addressing our domestic challenges without any undue interference. This is always a consistent statement made by the President, and I do not see any conflict in all of the statements that he has made,” he added.
Also on Tuesday, ousted President and now Manila Mayor Joseph Estrada said he supported Duterte’s call for the US government and the UN not to meddle in the internal issues of the Philippines.
Estrada, who met Duterte in Malacañang Monday afternoon, pointed out that neither the US nor the UN has the right to tell what Duterte should do, particularly on matters of national importance such as peace and order and the anti-terror campaign in Mindanao.
“The Philippines is an independent nation, they do not know our problems here, but they are suppressing our all-out war in Mindanao,” Estrada said in a radio interview with dzRH, adding that the fight against drugs and the need for more rehabilitation centers were among the issues they discussed during their meeting. With Sandy Araneta
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