MANILA, Philippines – President Rodrigo Duterte said he "would rather be friendly" now with the United States because the Americans have "redeemed themselves" and "have helped us a lot."
"There are so many factors involved but I'd rather be friendly to them now because aside from these episodes of, I said, sad incidents, overall, I think the Americans also redeemed themselves a lot," Duterte said during the 116th Balangiga Encounter Day in Balangiga, Eastern Samar.
Balangiga is the site of a historic siege that led to the US military's worst single defeat in the Philippines. In what is known as the Balangiga Massacre, locals outsmarted and killed 48 out of 74 US troops in 1901.
The siege was signaled by the Balangiga bells, which the US eventually took as spoils of war.
Due to this demand, bservers expected the President to slam the US again during the 116th Balangiga Encounter Day, but he surprisingly went soft on the US on Thursday.
Duterte explained on Thursday that the US "partly helped" the Philippines when it was "challenged by the Japanese occupation" during World War II.
'They are our allies'
"I would not say they were our saviors, but they are our allies and they helped us," Duterte said.
"Even today, they provide crucial equipment to our soldiers in Marawi to fight the terrorists," he added.
Duterte described previous US abuses as "water under the bridge."
"I was under advice by the Department of Foreign Affairs that I would just temper my language and avoid magmura (cursing), which I'm prone to do if I get emotional," he said.
In earlier speeches, Duterte blasted the US for atrocities such as the Bud Dajo massacre where Americans killed around 600 Moros in Sulu.
Duterte's speech on Thursday comes as the US assists the Philippines in ending clashes between government troops and Islamic State (ISIS)-linked Maute Group terrorists in Marawi City.
Earlier this month, the US announced it was donating P730 million ($15 million) to help rebuild Marawi.
Paterno R. Esmaquel II is a senior reporter leading Rappler’s coverage of religion and foreign affairs. He finished MA Journalism in Ateneo and MSc Asian Studies (Religions in Plural Societies) at RSIS, Singapore. For story ideas or feedback, email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.