By ALFRED GABOT
PASAY CITY/TOKYO (PhilAmPress) – There maybe some misconceptions or misunderstandings but President Rodrigo Duterte and Foreign Affairs Secretary Perfecto Yasay Jr. have assured that the Philippines will continue its alliance with the United States even as US officials made the same assurances while the Philippine President went on a high note to befriend China and Russia.
While in Beijing on a state visit, Mr. Duterte announced a “separation” of the Philippines with the US, saying even “Goodbye America,” alarming and confusing the long-time Philippine ally and other nations.
The President also announced he will not visit the US in his life time as he toyed with the idea of the Philippines imposing visa fees for Americans, possibly including Filipino Americans who are not dual citizens, wanting to visit Manila. At present, thousands going to US every year pay $150 each in US visa fees. “Bakit hindi natin tablahin (why don’t we equalize)?” he asked.
But before flying to Japan for another state visit, Duterte clarified that there is “separation” only and not “severance” of ties of the Philippines with America as Manila tries to chart an independent foreign policy where the Philippines will have to be treated equally by the US and not be subservient to America.
Mr. Duterte announced the Philippines’ “separation” from US during a meeting in Beijing, China after which he stated he would never visit the US again.
Angered by US criticisms on his campaign against illegal drugs where many people have been killed, Mr. Duterte has also questioned the presence of American troops in the country, especially in Mindanao, and the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) between the two countries which was signed while US President Barack Obama visited the Philippines.
Mr. Duterte also announced there will no longer be joint military exercises of Philippine and American soldiers.
Taking the cue from the President, Yasay made the assurance of continuing ties after a closed door meeting with Daniel Russel, Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs. Earlier, Yasay and Secretary of State John Kerry talked on the phone on the relationship of the two countries which are close allies for decades.
In Washington, Secretary Kerry expressed confidence that after speaking to Secretary Yasay, the Philippines and US can “work through” a period of confusion caused by anti-American rhetoric from President Duterte.
State Department spokesman John Kirby said Kerry expressed concern in his conversation with Secretary Yasay about the tone of remarks by Mr. Duterte, who has sharply criticized President Barack Obama and Ambassador Goldberg and talked of separation from Washington.
At the same time, Kerry emphasized strong and stable ties between the longtime allies, while Kirby said Washington had seen no practical action by Manila to move away from those.
Kerry’s conversation with Yasay came after Duterte provoked alarm last week by announcing a “separation” from the United States and realignment with China during a visit to Beijing.
Russel and Kerry made clear the United States had every intention of continuing to meet its security commitments to the Philippines.
“The tone and tenor of the discussions that they had … and the assurances that the Philippine side gave to their commitment to keeping the relationship going was enough to lead the secretary and the assistant secretary to believe that we were going to be able to work through this,” Kirby told a regular news briefing in Washington.
Russel, the most senior US diplomat for Asia, told reporters after meeting Yasay that the US remains a “steady and trusted” partner of the Philippines, but was concerned about controversial and “hostile” statements made by President Duterte.
Russel also met with other government officials including Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana and Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez.
Speaking to reporters, Russel said he had candidly told Yasay that Manila’s friends were concerned about the high loss of life in Duterte’s campaign against drugs and reiterated the importance of due process.
Russel said “a real climate of uncertainty about the Philippines’ intentions had created consternation in many countries,” including the United States. He said that worry extended beyond governments to corporate boardrooms and warned that it was “bad for business” in “a very competitive region.”
President Duterte’s hostile remarks against the US are making other countries and business leaders anxious, Russel said, adding the “consternation” Duterte’s remarks have caused was “not a positive trend.”
Russel left Manila without meeting Mr. Duterte but he dialogued with other officials and the US Ambassador Philip Goldberg who also expressed concern on Mr. Duterte’s pronouncements.
The assistant press attaché at the US Embassy, Molly Koscina, confirmed that no request was made with the Palace for Russel to meet with Mr. Duterte.
Mr. Duterte then flew to Tokyo for a state visit and scheduled meetings with Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and His Majesty Emperor Akihito aimed at bolstering the strategic partnership between the two countries, and discussing bilateral exchanges encompassing security, economic and defense cooperation, infrastructure development, agriculture, among others, and trade which last year amounted to $18 billion.
But while in Tokyo, President Duterte continued his tirades against the United States, telling foreign businesses in the Philippines worried about his deadly drug war to “pack up and leave.”
In Manila, Duterte expressed outrage at comments made Russel that his fiery rhetoric and crime war, which has claimed about 3,700 lives in four months, were bad for business.
“These Americans are really crazy,” Duterte said, as he held up a Philippines Daily Inquirer newspaper with headlines reporting criticism from the US assistant secretary of state.
“Russel says ‘Duterte comments causing worries in business communities’. Then you pack up and leave. We will recover, I assure you.”
“Magsilayas kayo, magti-tiis kami. We will recover, I assure you. We will live and survive,” the president said.
“Every time they said we will cut our assistance sabi ko sa kanila p**** i** ninyo. ‘Wag mo kami gawing aso… As if I am a dog with a leash, tapos magtapon ka ng pan doon sa malayo, hindi ko maabot,” Duterte said.
The president also commented on the statement of the US that it remains committed to the Philippines’ defense.
Duterte said that the Philippines does not need military assistance from the US as it does not have plans to go to war.
“They want to talk about the bogeyman of war. Stop that s***. Nobody
Duterte said that the EDCA deal with US maybe scrapped. Earlier, he said that joint military exercises of the Philippines and US will be terminated.
Duterte stressed that he is not a lapdog of the American government.
“You count me out. I’m not one of you. I am not also a tuta of any country, mind you. Ang puwede lang magtuta sa akin ang Pilipino, walang iba,” Duterte said in a press briefing before leaving for Japan.
Explaining Duterte’s “separation” and “Goodbye America” remarks, Yasay said the United States remained the “closest friend” of the Philippines but that Manila wanted to break away from a “mindset of dependency and subservience” and forge closer ties with other nations.
Duterte has previously branded US President Barack Obama a “son of a whore” and told him to “go to hell.”.
Japan, which is wary of China’s rising influence in the region, has signalled it would be looking for clarification from Duterte about his foreign policy plans.
“It is important to have good communication and to listen directly to what Mr Duterte has in mind,” Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida told reporters when asked about Duterte’s comments on ties with Washington.
Japan has provided patrol boats to support the Philippines in its territorial row with Beijing over rival claims to the South China Sea, as it sought backing in its own maritime dispute with China. Japan is expected to give more boats and assistance.
. Meanwhile, US troops are staying despite Duterte’s pronouncement that they should go and leave Mindanao.
Lt. Gen. Mayoralgo dela Cruz, the Western Mindanao Command commander, said while it was true that some US soldiers left a few weeks ago, they were immediately replaced by new ones.
“These are normal rotations. Those who have left were US Marines and they were replaced by US Army soldiers. Definitely, the Marines will bring back their own equipment,” he said.
US forces are still present here and “there are 107 (of them),” according to Dela Cruz.
“All of them are still here,” he added.
The US troops maintain a small camp inside the Westmincom headquarters here and have been training their Filipino counterparts on such skills as humanitarian and medical evacuation, including mobile treatment of wounded soldiers.
Duterte said in Davao City last week the Philippines is not cutting or “severing” ties with the United States.
Outgoing US Ambassador to the Philippines Philip Goldberg, meanwhile, stressed that American commitment to the country’s defense remains strong as ever.
This includes the Mutual Defense Treaty between the two nations signed in 1951.
Despite the occasional spats and disagreements, cooperation between the two countries are still ongoing as proven by the different exercises, programs and the Enhanced Defense Cooperation and Agreement.
Goldberg also said they are committed to maintaining a very strong US presence and relationships in the region.
“That will continue, you know the pivot or re-balance is based very much on the knowledge that with the rise of China, with the rise of the Soviet economies, the Southeast Asia, the rest of Asia, the demographic changes of the young population, that Asia is a hugely important area in the 21st century for the prosperity and well-being of the United States and part of our relationships in this area have been based also on the need to produce the kind of security arrangements and alliances that has been this tremendous rise economically, ” he added. (Alfred Gabot/PhilAm Press/Philippines USA Today?