Defense chief awaits clear Duterte order on PH-US war games

KD Suarez
Defense chief awaits clear Duterte order on PH-US war games
The Philippine defense establishment says it will also have to sit down with Americans to discuss future plans

MANILA, Philippines – Philippine Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana will ask President Rodrigo Duterte to clarify a statement he made about ending annual war games with the country’s treaty ally, the United States.

“The Department of National Defense will await further orders from President Rodrigo R. Duterte regarding the AFP’s exercises with the US forces,” reads a statement from the defense department on Thursday, September 29. 

“As to succeeding exercises, we will have to sit down with our US counterparts to discuss them,” the statement added.

The US State Department also said that there “has been no official rendering” of this decision to the US government.

“We’ve seen these comments, we’ve talked about them…when they have been made, but the bottom line is that we have significant security commitments with the Philippines. We’re committed to meeting those commitments and to furthering this relationship,” US State Department spokesperson John Kirby said in a media briefing past 2 am on Thursday, Manila time.

Duterte made the announcement in Vietnam Wednesday night, September 28, a few days before 1,400 US sailors and marines were scheduled to arrive in the the Philippines for the start of the regular Philippine-US Amphibious Landing Exercises (Phiblex). Lorenza did not join the President’s two-day official visit. 

“I would serve notice to you now that this will be the last military exercise. Jointly, Philippines-US, the last one. Ayaw ko lang mapahiya si Defense Secretary ko (I just don’t want my defense secretary to be embarrassed),” Duterte told Filipinos in Vietnam.

His 2 other Cabinet secretaries who were with him in Vietnam gave different interpretations of his statements. Foreign Secretary Perfecto Yasay Jr flatly denied the President ever said that, while National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon Jr said he thought Duterte meant it would be the last joint exercise this year, not throughout his term.

On Sunday, October 2, American troops will arrive in the Philippines for Phiblex, one of two regular joint military training exercises held in the Philippines that are allowed under the Visiting Forces Agreement ratified by the Senate in 1998. 

Duterte, who is vocal about his dislike of the US, said he will honor the country’s treaties with the superpower while strengthening alliances with China and Russia.

Duterte’s foreign policy deviates from the previous Aquino administration, which cut communication lines with China over the West Philippine Sea conflict and relied on US assistance.

Former foreign secretary Albert del Rosario, commenting on the new government’s foreign policy, warned about the economic costs of a policy shift. 

“I think the foreign policy of equating the US vis-à-vis China should not be a zero-sum game. In foreign affairs, you try to get as many friends as possible. You don’t get one friend at the expense of another friend,” Del Rosario said.

“Playing a zero-sum game is illogical and we should get away from this.” –


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