HANOI - The Philippines will go ahead with joint military exercises in 2017 with treaty ally the United States but the holding of war games from 2018 onwards would be reviewed, the country's foreign minister said on Thursday.
Speaking in Hanoi following President Rodrigo Duterte's announcement late on Wednesday that joint exercises starting next week would be the last between them, Foreign Secretary Perfecto Yasay said the 2017 drills were agreed by the previous administration and anything beyond then would be reassessed.
Duterte’s comments, which came less than a week before close to 2,000 American and Filipino troops hold annual amphibious exercises, were delivered “in the context of the fact that there will be no joint patrols,” Foreign Affairs Secretary Perfecto Yasay Jr. said.
“He will respect all of our treaty commitments with the United States,” Yasay told reporters here.
“If our agreements with the United States in so far as war games are concerned is there, and these should be done pursuant to the agreement that we have, that will be respected, that will continue,” he added.
He said the Philippines did not want a military ally and wished to be friends with all countries, and alienate none, and that would be how it would settle disputes in the South China Sea.
In Manila, Duterte’s spokesman, Ernesto Abella, said the “fundamental relationship” between the Philippines and the US was “unchanged.”
“We continue to surge forward even as we attempt a deeper understanding of each other’s methods. We respect the opinion of others but we also give ourselves the permission to chart our own course and fulfill our destiny on our terms,” he said.
Asked if the President meant a halt to war games this year or next year, Abella said: "There are no definite dates. There are no definite timelines, but it is part of the President’s intention."
Duterte, who has rejected US criticism of his bloody war on drugs with curse-filled tirades, also said he would “maintain” Manila’s military’s alliance with Washington but would also “establish new alliances for trade and commerce.”
The US is the Philippines' only treaty ally and under the six-decade-old Mutual Defense Treaty, both parties are bound to protect each other from "armed attacks."
After the Senate refused to renew the lease of US military bases in 1991, a Visiting Forces Agreement was signed in 1998, paving the way for annual joint drills.
In 2014, the two allies signed the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement during US President Barack Obama's visit to Manila to allow more American troops in the Philippines. - with reports from Doris Bigornia, ABS-CBN News