Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte said Wednesday that the October military exercises between the Philippines and the U.S. would be the last one under his administration. He also ruled out the U.S.-Philippines joint navy patrol in the South China Sea.
U.S.’ alliance with the Philippines is one of the oldest and most important in South Asia. Duterte put this alliance in question when he made the announcement during an official trip to Vietnam.
Speaking to the Filipino community in Vietnam’s capital Hanoi, he reportedly said, “You [U.S.] are scheduled to hold war games, which China does not want. I will serve notice to you now that this will be the last military exercise. Jointly, Philippines [and] the U.S.? Last one.”
The military exercises, which involve about 500 Filipino troops and 1,400 U.S. troops, are scheduled to occur between Oct. 4 and Oct. 12. These are the first such war games taking place after Duterte came to power earlier this year. However, the annual military exercises that involve more U.S. troops, taking place in April every year, would still continue.
The U.S. State Department told Al Jazeera it will “continue to focus on our broad relationship with the Philippines.”
“Our alliance is one of our most enduring and important relationships in the Asia Pacific region. It has been a cornerstone of stability for over 70 years. It is built on shared sacrifices for democracy and human rights and strong people-to-people and societal ties,” State Department spokeswoman Julia Mason said.
She added that U.S. will continue to “work together in the many areas of mutual interest, including counterterrorism, to improve the livelihoods of the Philippine people and uphold our shared democratic values.”
Duterte reportedly added that he would initiate “new alliances for trade and commerce” with Russia and China while maintaining security agreements with Washington.
Philippine Foreign Secretary Perfecto Yasay said later that the president’s remarks were taken out of context. He clarified that Duterte only took joint patrols beyond the Philippines’ 12-nautical mile territorial waters off the table. “Our agreement, that will be respected and this is what the president clearly meant,” Yasay said referring to a 1951 Mutual Defence Treaty.