Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte says he wants US military forces to leave the Philippines, possibly within the next two years. While it is just the latest in a highly publicised series of anti-US tirades, there is a very real possibility that Manila’s historical alliance with Washington could soon come to an end
Further straining an already tense relationship between Manila and Washington, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has said that he wants US military forces to leave his country soon.
“I want, maybe in the next two years, my country free of the presence of foreign military troops,” Duterte said yesterday at an economic forum in Tokyo while on a diplomatic trip in Japan that will see him meeting with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.
“I want them out and if I have to revise or abrogate agreements, executive agreements, I will,” he added.
Harry Sa, a research analyst with the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies’ US programme, said there was “quite a good chance” that Duterte would follow through on his threat to evict US forces from the Philippines.
“This is a former mayor who did not hesitate [in] expanding his controversial anti-drug policies to the national level,” he said. “Also, removing foreign troops fits well with his self-cultivated image as an independent strongman immune to American influence.”
While the US has largely remained mum on Duterte’s remarks, the president’s language has all but severed his country’s historical relationship with the US.
Manila has a decades-old defence treaty with Washington, as well as a separate 2014 agreement that allows US troops to use its bases and conduct military exercises in the Philippines. The US also keeps a contingent of special forces on the southern Philippine island of Mindanao, where Islamic rebel groups operate, to aid in counter-terrorism exercises.
Despite the possibility of a fractured US-Philippine relationship, the Southeast Asian country can still fall back on its relationships with middle-power countries such as Australia and Japan, according to Ramon Beleno III, chair of the political science and history department at Ateneo de Davao University.
Following Duterte’s comments, Japan announced loans totalling $204m for Philippine maritime security and social welfare programmes in Mindanao.
Beleno added that Manila’s allegiance to Washington may in fact be counterproductive in certain regards, as it could lead to more violence in the Philippines committed by anti-US Islamic groups.
Aries Arugay, an assistant professor in the department of political science at the University of the Philippines Diliman, said that while the Philippines was the “most pro-American public in the world,” Duterte’s anti-US rhetoric has resonated with many in the Philippines, especially considering the country’s history as a US colony.
“When Duterte said, ‘Do not fuck with our dignity,’ it resonated so much,” Arugay said, referring to a recent speech given by Duterte in response to criticism from Western nations. “Maybe less to the country’s elites and well-born, but to many ordinary Filipinos who encounter prejudice and discrimination [while working] overseas as well.
“Filipinos might love the US, but they love the Philippines more.”