MANILA - The Philippines will honor its military agreements with the United States, the Department of Foreign Affairs said Wednesday, as President Rodrigo Duterte stepped up criticism of wartime abuses by the Americans.
Duterte took the country's only treaty ally to task as he sought closer ties with China, despite a bitter maritime row, and US adversary Russia.
Aside from the 65-year-old Mutual Defense Treaty, Manila has two other military agreements with Washington -- the Visiting Forces Agreement and the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement.
“President Duterte said in his inaugural speech that he will honor our existing treaties and obligations, including those with the US," DFA spokesman Charles Jose told reporters.
“As the Palace said, we are not breaking our defense alliance with the US. The US side has also said it remains committed with its defense commitment with the Philippines," he said.
The MDT binds the US to help the Philippines in case of an "armed attack."
The VFA paved the way for joint military training after the Senate voted not to renew the lease of Clark and Subic bases in 1991.
The ECDA, signed in 2014, will pave the way for increased US military presence in the country. It was forged as US President Barack Obama sought to reassert American influence in the Pacific.
This week, Duterte called for the pullout of US troops in Mindanao and said he was not in favor of joint patrols in disputed waters.
The President's aides and the military have maintained that Duterte's statements did not indicate a policy shift.
READ: Duterte comments worry Filipino-Americans, says ex-envoy
Duterte had expressed displeasure over international criticism of his bloody war on drugs and threatened to curse at Obama if he raises the issue with him. The statement prompted Obama to cancel a planned meeting with Duterte in Laos last week.
Jose downplayed observations that Duterte was leaning towards China at the expense of the US. He said the President was charting an "independent" foreign policy as prescribed by the Constitution.
"The meaning of independent foreign policy is we will not subject ourselves to outside pressure. We have to balance our relations," he said.