MANILA - President Rodrigo Duterte on Monday told United States Secretary of State Rex Tillerson that he continues to be a “humble friend” of the world’s most powerful country in the Southeast Asian region.
Duterte reaffirmed the Philippines’ ties with the US during Tillerson’s courtesy call on him Monday in Malacañang.
"I am your humble friend in Southeast Asia," the President told Tillerson.
The courtesy call comes in the wake of Duterte’s string of stinging retorts against Washington’s criticism of his war on drugs.
Tillerson paid a courtesy call on Duterte as he is here in the Philippines to attend Asia’s biggest security forum, where nagging regional security issues such as China’s activities in the South China Sea and North Korea’s long-range missile tests were expected to be brought up.
Presidential Spokesperson Ernesto Abella early Monday said Duterte is expected to raise with the top US diplomat the issue of the Balangiga bells, which were taken by American soldiers as war booty from the Philippines more than a hundred years ago.
The security situation in Marawi City, threat posed by global terror networks, and increasing Philippines-US economic and people-to-people engagement are also expected to be discussed by Duterte and Tillerson.
Since assuming the presidency, Duterte has opted to lessen dependence on the US, a treaty ally. Such a decision was partly fueled by Washington’s criticism of his controversial campaign against illegal drugs.
In loosening ties with Washington, Duterte has turned to China, which is embroiled in a bitter maritime dispute with the Philippines over the South China Sea.
Duterte took a friendlier stance towards China, choosing to set aside the maritime dispute in pursuit of warmer economic ties.
China’s land reclamation in South China Sea has alarmed the region, as well as the US and Japan. However, some countries dependent on Beijing’s wealth have been reluctant to push back, wary of earning the Asian giant’s ire.