Duterte: China doesn't want war games
(UPDATED) President Rodrigo Duterte on Wednesday said the scheduled military exercises between the Philippines and the United States in October will be the last one.
"So I'm serving notice now to the Americans. I will maintain the military alliance, the RP-US pact which our countries signed in the early 50s. But I will establish new alliances for trade and commerce. And you are scheduled to hold war games, which China does not want. I will serve notice to you now that this will be the last military exercise. Jointly, Philippines, the U.S.? Last one. Ayoko lang mapahiya si Defense Secretary (Delfin Lorenzana)," Duterte told the Filipino community in Hanoi, Vietnam.
The annual Philippines Amphibious Landing Exercise (PHIBLEX) will be held from October 4 to 12 in multiple locations in Luzon, including Palawan, which fronts reefs and outcrops that are being contested by Manila and Beijing, according to an embassy statement.
It will be the first war games between the two treaty allies under the Duterte administration, who has hit out at the United States for criticizing his bloody war on drugs.
Duterte added that he will not join any patrol activities in the South China Sea.
"Then I will not join any patrol in the [South China Sea]. 'Yung gray ships, war ships. White 'yung Coast Guard. There will never be an occasion that I will send gray ships there. Not because I am afraid. Not because takot ako. Anyway, I have this ruling by the International Court of Justice that says that 'yung South China Sea, the entitlements there, are ours," he said.
For Duterte, the Philippines is not ready to fight China, even with the help of the U.S.
"There is only two, either we go to war, or we talk. Hindi natin kaya ang China. Sasabihin ko sa 'yo, even with the help of America. So, we talk," he said.
He, however, clarified that he will stand his ground in relation to the ruling released by an arbitration tribunal in The Hague.
"When the time comes, sabihin ko sa China, ito 'yung amin. I will talk to you but I will not go out of the four corners of this paper. But this is not the time to die. I am not ready to commit the soldiers of this country just to be massacred."
"And besides, 't******, ang battle ground, Palawan? Naloko na. Kung doon 'yan sa San Francisco, okay ako," Duterte added.
He reiterated his plan to open the Philippines to China and Russia, which he will be visiting soon.
"I will visit China. I will open the doors to investment, lahat open, pati internet, mamili ka. Pati bowl diyan sa banyo, buksan ko 'yan. Then I will go to Russia. I talked to Medvedev doon sa (ASEAN Summit). Sikreto lang, ngayon ko lang sasabihin. Now they know," Duterte also said.
Asked to comment, Foreign Affairs Secretary Perfecto Yasay, Jr. said he did not hear the part of the Duterte's speech wherein he said all regular Philippine-U.S. military exercises will be terminated.
Yasay said all of the Philippines' treaties with the U.S., including the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA), will outlast Duterte's six-year term, and the President cannot abrogate the said agreements.
DUTERTE SEEKS ALLIANCES WITH CHINA, RUSSIA
Duterte earlier said he would visit Russia and China this year to chart an independent foreign policy and "open alliances" with two powers with historic rivalries with the United States.
Duterte said the Philippines was at the "point of no return" in relations with former colonial ruler the United States, so he wanted to strengthen ties with others, and picked two global powers that have been sparring with Washington on the international political stage.
"I am ready to not really break (U.S.) ties but we will open alliances with China and... Medvedev," Duterte earlier told reporters, adding he would open up the "other side of the ideological barrier".
He welcomed investment and shrugged off rating agency Standard and Poor's concerns last week about the Philippine economy on his watch.
"Never mind about the ratings," he said. "I will open up the Philippines for them to do business, alliances of trade and commerce."
The peso has fallen to its lowest since 2009, and foreign investors have dumped local shares for six straight weeks, worried about Duterte's anti-U.S. rhetoric and brutal war on drugs, which has alarmed rights groups at home and abroad.
In Washington, State Department spokesman Mark Toner said the Philippine government had not contacted the United States about the comments made by Duterte.
U.S. cooperation with the Philippine government remains strong and the United States has not seen anything that would indicate a shift by Manila, Toner said at a daily news briefing.
"They're a sovereign nation and we're certainly not going to hold them back from pursuing closer relations with either of those countries. ... It's not a zero-sum game," he said.
His vitriol against the United States has become a near-daily occurrence, sparking both amusement and concern. On Monday he accused Washington of "hypocrisy" and "lording it over us".
His latest swipe included ruling out participation in any maritime conflict initiated by the United States, despite a 1951 treaty which Duterte said required Manila to back Washington.
"I am about to cross the Rubicon between me and the U.S.," he said," without elaborating. "It's the point of no return."
Toner said he would dispute Duterte's premise that the United States might start a maritime conflict. "The United states has a strong security presence in the Asia-Pacific region, but we're certainly not looking to start a military action against anyone," he said.
On Monday, the U.S. embassy in Manila announced two-week deployment of a pair of C130 planes and 100 troops at an air base in the central Philippines, the third of its kind this year, as part of a rotational troops agreement.
Separately, Duterte said the United Nations, European Union and United States would get a free hand to investigate killings in his anti-narcotics campaign, but only under Philippine laws.
Deaths in the campaign have averaged more than 40 a day since Duterte took office on June 30. - with reports from Doris Bigornia, ABS-CBN News; Reuters