MANILA, Philippines – President Rodrigo Duterte said on Sunday, March 19, that he is open to strong ties with the administration of US President Donald Trump.
“Kami ni President Trump, okay kami (President Trump and I are on good terms). I can assure him also of our friendship and cooperation,” said Duterte in a speech before the Filipino community during his official visit to Myanmar.
The Philippine President went on to say that he will “give all, whatever it is” to the Trump-led US government, but was less warm as he talked about the two countries’ defense partnership.
“Iyong military alliances ayaw ko na niyan, ‘di natin kaya (I don’t like military alliances. We can’t handle those),” said Duterte.
He emphasized that the Philippines cannot afford to get involved in conflicts, especially since its military is not as well-equipped as that of the US.
“Someday, but not now,” he added.
Duterte’s friendliness toward Trump is in stark contrast to his hostility to former US president Barack Obama. In his speech, Duterte recalled how he told Obama to “go to hell,” after the latter criticized the Philippines’ bloody war on drugs.
In a meeting of the Mutual Defense Board and Security Engagement Board (MDB-SEB) last November, Filipino and American military forces had assured each other that their “robust relations” would continue.
But earlier this year, Duterte again threatened to revoke the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) as he told US forces to stop unloading arms in Palawan, Cagayan de Oro, and Pampanga – 3 bases where the US had planned to build facilities.
This was part of the US’ plan to start the implementation of the deal forged under the Aquino administration. The EDCA allows the US to construct facilities and preposition assets inside Philippine military bases, a deal that was declared constitutional by the Philippine Supreme Court.
Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana has since said that the US construction at the Bautista Air Base in Palawan will not push through.
Lorenzana also previously clarified that Duterte will review the EDCA, but will not junk it. He also said the joint military exercises between Filipino and American troops under the Visiting Forces Agreement will continue. – Rappler.com