US defense chief Austin pays courtesy call on Duterte

ABS-CBN News

Posted at Jul 29 2021 10:37 PM

US defense chief Austin pays courtesy call on Duterte 1
US defense chief Austin pays courtesy call on Duterte 2

US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin meets President Rodrigo Duterte in Malacañang. Courtesy of Sen. Bong Go

US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin meets President Rodrigo Duterte in Malacañang. Courtesy of Sen. Bong Go

MANILA - US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin on Thursday paid a courtesy call on President Rodrigo Duterte after arriving in the Philippines, the last stop of his Southeast Asian trip.

Austin, among the first top officials of the Biden administration to visit Manila, was welcomed by Philippine counterpart Defense Sec. Delfin Lorenzana, Executive Sec. Salvador Medialdea, Foreign Affairs Sec. Teodoro Locsin Jr., Philippine Ambassador to the United States Jose Manuel Romualdez, and Presidential Assistant on Foreign Affairs Robert Borje.

His visit will highlight the 75th anniversary of Philippines-US relations and the 70th anniversary of the Mutual Defense Treaty between the long-time allies.

His Manila trip will revolve around security issues that he will likely discuss with Filipino officials, including tensions between the Philippines and China due to maritime and territorial disputes in the South China Sea.

The US defense chief earlier criticized China's actions in the hotly contested sea, where Beijing has overlapping claims with several states in the region. 

Austin had stressed that he would emphasize the US' commitment to freedom of the seas during his overseas trip.

The Visiting Forces Agreement of Manila and Washington, which which is in limbo after Duterte's decision last year to abrogate it, will also likely be discussed.

From being Manila’s perceived best friend because of shared history dating back to the colonial years over a century ago, Washington was suddenly pushed aside when Duterte took over in 2016.

The US and its officials have been at the receiving end of Duterte’s foul language starting when he was accused of disregarding human rights in his flagship war on drugs.

These, even as Duterte and former US President Donald Trump had mutual admiration for each other.

Early on in his presidency, Duterte threatened to pull out US forces from Mindanao, declared a "separation" from the U.S., and favored joining a "new order" with Russia and China.

Duterte’s "independent foreign policy" was described by his foreign ministers as being "friends to all and enemies to none," which, later became, "friends to our friends; enemies to our enemies."

The policy was declared as Duterte turned to China for more economic incentives while downplaying the South China Sea disputes, and to Russia for improved security and economic ties.

—Report from Joyce Balancio, ABS-CBN news

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