The president of the Philippines has decided not to scrap defense deals and war games with the U.S., despite slamming America for months.
President Rodrigo Duterte said he would permit the continuation of the Balikatan war games and implement the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA), Rappler reports.
EDCA gives the U.S. access to five military bases in the Philippines and aids American forward deployment. The agreement was heralded as a victory for the U.S.-Philippine alliance under the previous administration. Joint military exercises put pressure on Chinese activities in the South China Sea in an effort to preserve the rules-based international order.
Duterte has blasted the U.S. for months now. He promised to “break up with America” and then announced his “separation from America.”
“I would serve notice to you now that this will be the last military exercise,” Duterte said after the Balikatan joint military exercises in September. He also cancelled joint naval patrols in the South China Sea.
“You have the EDCA. Well, forget it. If I stay here long enough, one day that EDCA will, if it’s an executive agreement, then I will just …,” Duterte, making a sweeping gesture with his hands, explained in October. “I want, maybe in the next two years, my country to be free of the presence of foreign military troops.”
“The Philippines can live without the U.S.,” Duterte added.
Yet, the bombastic president of the Philippines, who is known for his foul-mouthed tirades against the U.S. and others who displease him, has done a complete 180 on war games and defense pacts.
The shift appears to be the result of pressure from defense and military officials, which have strong ties to the U.S. “He practically approved all our recommendations,” Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana revealed.
Duterte’s change of heart may also have to do with China’s insistence that nothing has changed at Scarborough Shoal in the South China Sea, hurting the dream that China and the Philippines may be able to establish some form of rapprochement.
While Duterte has approved war games and EDCA, the declaration that the Philippines will not conduct joint drills in the West Philippine Sea with the U.S. still stands.
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