Rody warns US: Careful

‘Assess yourselves or lose an ally’

PRESIDENT Rodrigo Duterte on Friday warned that the United States might lose the Philippines as an ally in the Pacific if they won’t carefully assess his war on illegal drugs and the historical injustices that were committed in the country. 

Shortly after singing praises to China, which he said was the only one that helped his campaign against illegal drugs that the US criticized, Duterte said America should respect the Philippines as an equal.

TRAPID REMINDER. After President Rodrigo Duterte said the United States is free to withdraw its aid to its Southeast Asian ally, the US Embassy posted throwback photos in its Facebook account of the assistance Washington, like this one following the 2013 Zamboanga siege, with a message ‘Remember when the US military and USAID Philippines distributed 10,000 units of bottled water, sleeping mats, blankets, tooth brushes, toothpaste, buckets and canned goods to provide relief and emergency to internationally displaced persons in Zamboanga? We were here to help. We are still here to help.’ US Embassy. 
“I’m not telling America to follow [China’s suit,] I do not expect you to do that also. We sacrificed for you. You stayed here. You are still doing business here. We just swallowed that. We suffered during the last Second World War because you were here. Had you not been here, we would not have experienced so much destruction in the country. The Battle of Manila, 200,000 Filipinos died because you were here,” Duterte said in a mix of English and Filipino.

“So these are the things—now do not forget, do not say it was 45 years ago, 60 years ago. In the relation between race and tribes, the past is as valid as the present. Assess yourselves because if you don’t, you will lose the Philippines.”

Also on Friday, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana announced that the Philippines has informed the United States that joint patrols in the South China Sea have been suspended, following orders from President Duterte.

“They have been suspended for the time being. They [Washington] know it already,” Lorenzana told reporters, adding he had relayed the decision to the commander of the US Pacific Command when he was in Hawaii at the start of this month.

Still, Lorenzana seemed uncertain about the fate of the patrols.

“They will not be conducted anymore until we clarify if he [Duterte] means what he says,” he said.

The longtime allies began planning joint patrols under the previous administration, which had sought to attract a greater US military presence in the region to counter Chinese efforts to take control of the South China Sea.

China claims nearly all of the sea, even waters close to the Philippines and other Southeast Asian nations, and has in recent years built artificial islands in the disputed areas that are capable of hosting military bases.

Lorenzana said the United States and Philippines had conducted two “passing through” maneuvers over the section of the sea claimed by Manila this year, but not actual “combat patrols.”

Duterte, who began his six-year term on June 30, quickly shredded President Benigno Aquino III’s strategy on China, seeking cooperation and dialogue with Beijing while diluting the Philippines’ alliance with the United States.

Earlier this week, Duterte rchallenged the United States, the European Union and human rights advocates to pull out their aid to the Philippines if they continue to criticize his anti-narcotics campaign.

Foreign Affairs Secretary Perfecto Yasay Jr. on Thursday also declared that the country would break the “shackles of dependency” on the United States, which he said has failed the Philippines. 

Yasay said that US dependency made Filipinos incapable of defending their national interest against internal and external threats, including the country’s ongoing territorial dispute with China in the West Philippine Sea. 

Responding to threats of ouster, Duterte said that if they would continue to meddle his affairs, this might break up the country’s alliance with the United States.

“You want to oust me? You want to use the CIA? Go ahead. I said I put at stake my honor, my life, and the presidency. What happens to me is really a part of my destiny. If I am ousted, then that is part of my presidency,” he said.

“But as long as I am there, do not treat us like a doormat because you will be sorry for it. I will not stick with you.”

In the same speech, Duterte reiterated that he can always go to China.

“For the foreign policy now, I am opening up the Philippines. I do not want to antagonize you. But I said, try to give us a little of respect. You do not go around reprimanding a head of state as if you are talking to—p***** i**.”

The US State Department on Friday said it remains focused on maintaining strong ties and providing assistance to the Philippines amid the latest remarks by Duterte and Yasay.

Responding to Yasay’s assertion that the Duterte administration would no longer bend to the carrot-and-stick approach used by America or any other country, including China, US State Department Spokesman John Kirby said that nothing will change in the relations of the two countries. 

“Again, I think we’re mindful of the rhetoric, but we believe that it is at odds with the kind of cooperation that we have right now and which we’re focusing on and implementing now. And it certainly isn’t—those kinds of comments aren’t in keeping with what we see every day as the strong relationship between our two countries and between the American people and the Philippine people, and we’re focused on that continuing,” Kirby said. 

Kirby said that they are taking very seriously their relationship with the country, being a strategic ally to counter China’s expansion efforts in the Pacific. 

“Five of our seven treaty alliances are in the Pacific region. One of them is with the Philippines. And we take that very seriously and we’re going to continue to take that very seriously,” he said. 

“The meetings that the Secretary [John Kerry] had in the Philippines reinforced that for him, and again, nothing that we’re seeing today tangibly would change our mind about that.”

Senator Richard Gordon on Friday warned that China would be emboldened to extend its control in the West Philippine Sea if Duterte withdraws from the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (Edca) with the United States.

He said junking Edca as Duterte has threatened to do, was not advisable as this would weaken US influence in Asia.

The senator said Edca should remain for now just in case conflict breaks out between the Philippines and China over the West Philippine Sea.

“That is very dangerous. I believe that if China steps on Scarborough Shoal, that is a red line and we’ll have to fight. Scarborough Shoal is so near that we will have to fight,” he said.

Kirby, in response to Duterte’s challenge for the US to withdraw aid to the Philippines, cited the Leahy amendment that prohibits the US Department of State and Department of Defense from providing military assistance to foreign military units that violate human rights with impunity. 

“It’s a law we strongly believe in. And whether it’s in the Philippines or anywhere around the world, that review process is near continuous and it will remain so,” the spokesman said.

An American senator earlier warned that the US government may take action if the extrajudicial killings and state-sanctioned violence continue in the country.

Sen. Patrick Leahy, author of the Leahy Law, stressed that the spate of killings in the country show Duterte’s lack of respect for international human rights.

Duterte has repeatedly slammed the US, the United Nations and the EU for criticizing his campaign against illegal drugs.

The US government, however, praised Philippine law enforcement units Friday for the arrest of two Chinese nationals and a Russian caught with 27 kilos of cocaine inside their luggage last Wednesday afternoon at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport.

Arrested were Chinese nationals—Chan Kawai and Pau Homanevan and Russian Kirdyushkin Yury, who arrived at the Naia Terminal 3 on board Emirates Air Flight EK332 from Rio Grande, Brazil via Dubai.

About 7.4 kilos of cocaine in powder form and 2.5 kilos in liquid form were found in Yury’s luggage, while a combined 18 kilos of powder cocaine were found hidden inside the luggage of the two Chinese nationals.

The US Drug Enforcement Administration was the one that tipped off government agents the Philippines about the arrival of the three foreigners.

“Another example of successful bilateral counter narcotics and law enforcement coordination! We are pleased that information by the US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) Office in Manila was instrumental in the identification of three travelers suspected to be carrying contraband in their check-in baggage aboard an incoming international flight on October 5,” the US Embassy said.

The embassy also commended members of the airport task force that receives training, equipment and infrastructure support from the US government.

The Pasay City prosecutor’s office has recommended no bail for the three suspected drug mules. 

Customs Deputy Commissioner Arnel Alcaraz said the cocaine shipment is worth about P135 million.

Since taking office, Duterte has repeatedly railed against the United States for criticizing his war on crime, which has claimed more than 3,300 lives and raised concerns about extrajudicial killings.

“I have lost my respect for America,” Duterte said on Tuesday, as he threatened to break ties completely with the United States.

Duterte had previously called US President Barack Obama a “son of a whore” and said he could go to hell.

Until Friday, officials from both sides had said Duterte’s pronouncements were not necessarily policy. 

US officials had repeatedly said they had not been officially informed of Duterte’s comments.

So the announcement that the joint patrols had been suspended was the first public confirmation that one of Duterte’s anti-US comments had become policy.

Lorenzana said none of the other Duterte pronouncements had been officially delivered to the Americans.

But he did say the Philippines was planning to eject the US forces in Mindanao in the “near future,” as he disclosed details of their normally secretive activities.

The US Special Forces began short-term deployments in 2002 to train Filipino troops in how to counter Islamic militants, with the American personnel peaking at about 600 before the operation was scaled down in 2014.

“There are actually very few of them [now], just about 157 people,” Lorenzana said, adding they were stationed inside a large military camp on the outskirts of Zamboanga City on the main southern island of Mindanao.

“All they do is operate their drones and some intelligence equipment to help our troops in the south.”

He said the drones flew over the militant strongholds of the Basilan and Sulu island groups, as well as central Mindanao where another small armed group had pledged alliance to the Islamic State group.

Lorenzana said those US forces would be asked to leave when the Philippines acquired its own drones.

“The President said that he doesn’t want them to leave immediately but maybe in the near future,” Lorenzana said. 

EU Ambassador to the Philippines Franz Jessen said Friday that the EU would continue to provide assisstance to the Philippines despite Duterte’s tirades against the regional bloc.

Jessen said despite Duterte’s outbursts, most European countries would continue to provide economic and development support to the country, particularly in the provinces affected by natural calamities.

“I think there is still a need for development assistance in the Philippines and we work hand-in-hand with the government,” Jessen said in a press briefing.

While Jessen admitted that President Duterte’s latest tirades against UE and US offended many foreign leaders, the existing bilateral and economic cooperation between the Philippines and European countries, including the US, will remain strong.  With Joel E. Zurbano, Vito Barcelo, Macon Ramos-Araneta, and AFP 

Topics: President Rodrigo Duterte , United States , Philippines , South China Sea , Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana
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