Duterte: Clock Is Ticking On Removal Of US Troops From The Philippines

REUTERS/Erik De Castro

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Ryan Pickrell China/Asia Pacific Reporter
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The president of the Philippines took another swing at the U.S.-Philippines alliance Wednesday by setting a deadline for the removal of U.S. troops.

“I have declared I will pursue an independent foreign policy. I want, maybe in the next two years, my country to be free of the presence of foreign military troops,” President Rodrigo Duterte said at the Philippine Economic Forum in Tokyo. “I want them out and if I have to revise or abrogate agreements, executive agreements, I will,” he added, referring to the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA), which gives the U.S. military access to bases in the Philippines.

Duterte told the U.S. Tuesday, before his departure for Japan, to “forget about” EDCA. “I do not want to see any military man of any other nation except for the Philippine soldier.”

Now, he has signaled that he wants U.S. troops out of his country within two years’ time.

The Armed Forces of the Philippines and relevant Filipino defense officials have strong ties to the U.S.; Duterte, as the president of the Philippines, does have the authority to tear up the EDCA agreement, which was praised as a victory for President Barack Obama’s pivot to Asia.

“The Philippines can live without the U.S.” Duterte said. “If there’s one thing I would like to prove to America and to everybody is that there is such a thing as the dignity of the Filipino people.”

After arriving in Japan — a staunch U.S. ally and a host to 50,000 U.S. troops — Duterte decided to deliver a profane speech bashing the U.S.: “Don’t fuck with our dignity,” he said.

Duterte said that he will not be “a dog barking for the crumbs of [America’s] favor.” “I will never allow our dignity and honor to be just like a doormat before the international public. I will not allow it,” he added.

The breakdown of the military alliance between the U.S. and the Philippines would potentially have far-reaching consequences for America’s presence in Asia.

It is unclear what path Duterte will ultimately choose to walk on this issue, for he contradicts himself on a regular basis.

Duterte has threatened to “break up with America” and pursue a “separation from America,” but he has also retracted those statements. In China, he pledged his loyalty to the Chinese and raked in billions of dollars in assistance deals. After arriving in Japan, he revealed that his trip to China was all about the money, and promised to stand on Japan’s side in the South China Sea. Duterte flip-flops regularly, making his ambitions difficult to pin down.

His disdain for the Obama administration, however, has remained fairly consistent. Nonetheless, the U.S. has not yet received any official notice regarding the removal of troops or the termination of any relevant defense agreements from the Philippines.

By limiting its responses to Duterte’s rhetoric and continuing to promote positive relations between the U.S. and the Philippines, Washington, D.C., appears to be waiting and hoping that it can ride out the Duterte storm.

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