Before reluctantly thanking the United States for helping the government's fight against the Maute Group in Marawi City, President Rodrigo Duterte admitted one thing to media: Filipino soldiers in general like the US and there's nothing he can do about it.
"Ito talaga ang sentimyento nito, pro-American, pro-American talaga ang mga sundalo natin, that I cannot deny," said Duterte on Sunday, June 11, during a media interview in Cagayan de Oro City.
(This is really their sentiment, our soldiers are really pro-American, that I cannot deny.)
Duterte was there to visit soldiers wounded during clashes in Marawi City. He gave each of them P110,000 in financial assistance as well as pistols and mobile phones.
The rapport between Filipino troops and the US is likely because many soldiers went there to study, said Duterte.
"Almost all officers will go to America to study about militaristic thing. Kaya meron 'yan silang (That's why they have) rapport and I cannot deny that," he said.
Decades of the Philippine military working closely with their American counterparts have led to better coordination and a high level of interoperability between the two forces. (READ: Duterte's pivot to China won't be easy for Americanized AFP)
The Philippines and the US hold at least two military exercises annually as part of the Mutual Defense Treaty.
Because of Duterte's orders not to hold joint patrols or military exercises in the South China Sea (West Philippine Sea), the focus of recent military exercises has been on disaster response and counterterrorism.
That Sunday press conference, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana and Armed Forces of the Philippines chief General Eduardo Año stood behind Duterte as he was speaking.
Lorenzana is definitely one military man with firm ties to Washington. The former army commander took a crisis management course at the US State Department and served as defense attaché to the US from 2002 to 2004.
Lorenzana was instrumental in cultivating military bilateral relations between the Philippines and the US. He helped develop the terms of reference for the Balikatan exercises between the military forces of the two countries.
The defense chief was supposedly one of the major voices who convinced Duterte to continue with the Balikatan exercises despite the President's previous announcement that the 2016 military exercises would be the last during his term.
The Balikatan pushed through this year but with major changes – it did not include an exercise to counter an invader on Philippine shores.
The change was made to conform to Duterte's objective not to anger China, which continues to claim almost the entire South China Sea despite a 2016 international court ruling that nullified its expansive 9-dash line.
Duterte may be prioritizing warmer ties with China, but it seems he is also aware that existing ties between his own soldiers and the US military is not something to brush aside. – Rappler.com
Pia Ranada covers the Office of the President and Bangsamoro regional issues for Rappler. While helping out with desk duties, she also watches the environment sector and the local government of Quezon City. For tips or story suggestions, you can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.