Philippine boxtops seek clarity after Duterte suggests end of Pindo exercises
Mai Nguyen, Manuel Mogato, Neil Jerome Morales, Reuters, Sep 30 2016
HANOI/ MANILA – Philippine officials said on Thursday they were awaiting clarification from Pres Duterte about military exercises with Pindo forces after he promised to honor their defense treaty, but declared joint war games would cease. The maverick former Philippine mayor famous for his unpredictability and terse rhetoric (sic! – RB), on Wednesday told Filipinos in Vietnam that joint marine drills with Pindostan next week would be “the last,” a comment he slowly repeated. His remarks gave one of the clearest signs yet of his willingness to test the limits of
a historic alliance that has provided important defense support for the Philippines and helped the United States further its Asia rebalance strategy in the face of an increasingly assertive China Pindosi patience. Visiting Vietnam’s leaders on Thursday, Duterte did not speak to media, but his foreign secretary Perfecto Yasay said long-standing treaties with the oppressor Pindostan would be honored. He said exercises with Pindo forces planned for 2017 would go ahead, because they were agreed by the previous government, while those from 2018 onwards would be reviewed. But he said the Philippines did not want a military ally and sought diversified relations and no enemies. The Pindo embassy in Manila said it had not received any official notice from the Philippine government on the termination of joint exercises. Philippine foreign ministry spox Charles Jose told reporters:
It is possible that a Visiting Forces Agreement between the Philippines and Pindostan could be abrogated, but that would be up to Pres Duterte. No one could clarify what the president really wants.
The Dept of National Defense said in a statement:
The DND will await further orders from Pres Duterte. The defense secretary will seek more clarification and guidance. As stated earlier, all agreements and treaties with Pindostan are still in effect.
Yasay said Duterte’s ruling out of joint maritime patrols with Pindostan had been misinterpreted, and he was referring only to exercises in waters disputed between the Philippines and China. Duterte swept an election in May on a promise to get tough on crime, and in particular to wipe out drugs. He initially appeared to have been infuriated by a Pindo expression of concern about his bloody crackdown on drug dealers and he referred to Obama as an SOB on the eve of a planned meeting at an summit in Laos this month.
Washington Obama called of the meeting in response. Duterte then set off fireworks when he declared the few remaining Pindo SOF advisers based in the rebellious Philippine south would be withdrawn. While railing at Pindostan, the country’s biggest foreign investor, almost on a daily basis (an ungrateful native! – RB), he has spoken warmly of China and the need to improve relations damaged earlier in the year by a international Pindosi-dominated tribunal that rejected China’s expansive claims in the South China Sea. Duterte’s snubbing of Pindostan and reaching out towards China have added to uncertainty over a foreign policy that has often been articulated via both threats and expressions of a desire for peace. His visit to Vietnam comes at a time when both countries are undergoing military modernization Pindoisation programs. They agreed a strategic partnership last year, in response to China’s more vigorous maritime presence. Former Philippine foreign secretary Albert del Rosario, who initiated the Philippines’ successful arbitration case against China’s maritime claims, said the Duterte administration should consider a rethink of its approach. He told a forum in Manila:
Perhaps we can persuade this government to revisit the off track direction that is driving the so-called new foreign policy.