MANILA (UPDATE) – United States forces, particularly those in Mindanao, must leave the Philippines, President Rodrigo Duterte said on Monday.
In a speech at the Palace, Duterte lamented anew that the world’s most powerful nation has not yet apologized for its wrongdoings during its colonization of the Philippines from 1898 to 1946.
He again brought up the March 1906 Bud Dajo massacre, where hundreds of Moros, including women and children, were killed by US forces in Sulu.
“The US special forces, they have to go. They have to go. In Mindanao, maraming mga puti doon (there are many whites there), they have to go. I don’t want a rift with America but they have to go,” Duterte said.
The president added, the American troops are targets of the terror group Abu Sayyaf.
"Makakita ng Amerikano iyan patayin yan. Kukunan ng ransom iyan. Even if you are black or white, basta Amerikano ka," he said.
(If they see an American, they will kill him. They will demand ransom and kill him, whether you're black or white.)
Some US special forces have been killed in the southern Philippines since 2002, when Washington deployed soldiers to train and advise local units fighting Abu Sayyaf in Operation Enduring Freedom, part of its global anti-terror strategy.
At the height of that, some 1,200 Americans were in Zamboanga City and on Jolo and Basilan islands, both strongholds of Abu Sayyaf, which is known for its brutality and for earning huge sums of money from hostage-taking.
The U.S. program was discontinued in the Philippines in 2015 but a small troop presence has remained for logistics and technical support. Washington has shifted much of its security focus in the Philippines towards the South China Sea.
INDEPENDENT FOREIGN POLICY
Duterte has repeatedly said he will pursue an independent foreign policy, and has criticized Washington over what he believes is the latter’s meddling in the country’s affairs.
Before leaving for the ASEAN Summit in Laos last week, Duterte cursed and assailed the US when asked what he would do if US President Barack Obama brought up during the summit his concerns about human rights violations in his administration's war on drugs.
Duterte's cursing prompted the White House to cancel what would have been the first bilateral meeting between Duterte and Obama.
Duterte later clarified that he did not curse Obama, and Obama said he did not take the expletive personally.
READ: Duterte denies cursing Obama
In his speech today, Duterte said the US must first grasp the magnitude of the country’s drug problem before it lectures him on human rights.
“Ang Amerika napaka-hipokrito. (Ameica is such a hypocrite.) They know, actually know, that I have a serious problem -- 3 million plus [drug dependents] in the Philippines,” he said.
Duterte then went on to criticize US meddling in the affairs of other nations, particularly in the Middle East, which he said was destroying countries such as Iraq and Libya.
“They killed Saddam [Hussein]. Where is Iraq now?” Duterte said.
Previous Philippine presidents have regarded the US as an important security ally, especially vis-a-vis China's reclamation in the South China Sea.
During the administration of Duterte’s predecessor, Benigno Aquino III, the Philippines entered into an Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) with the US, which increases US military presence in the Philippines.
The agreement is widely seen as the Philippines’ counter-balance to Chinese military superiority in the disputed South China Sea.
Duterte’s strong rhetoric against the US, however, is now putting into question whether the traditional ties between the two Pacific nations will remain strong under the incumbent Filipino leader. - with Reuters