President Rodrigo Duterte on Wednesday said he wanted US troops out of the country in the next two years and was willing to scrap defense pacts with longtime ally Washington if necessary.
But the US State Department also on Wednesday played down Duterte’s continued anti-American tirades, declining to respond to his latest attack from Japan, where he is on an official visit.
The comments follow a series of anti-American rhetoric by Duterte, who has repeatedly attacked the US while cozying up to Beijing, upending his nation’s foreign policy in comments that have sometimes been quickly retracted.
“I want, maybe in the next two years, my country free of the presence of foreign military troops,” Duterte told an economic forum in Tokyo, in a clear reference to US forces.
“I want them out and if I have to revise or abrogate… executive agreements, I will,” he added.
At a press briefing, the US State Department brushed off the President’s comments after being asked if Washington will continue doing nothing despite getting insulted by its closest ally in Southeast Asia.
“I’ve said for several days now, that despite the rhetoric, we haven’t seen any policy traction behind it; in other words, there hasn’t been any change, tangible changes, to the policies and to the programs that both our nations are implementing and executing on a daily basis,” US State Department spokesperson John Kirby said in Washington.
“So—and this is a pattern we’ve seen, so we’re not going to react and respond to every bit of rhetoric,” he added.
Kirby, who noted that Duterte’s rhetoric was “at odds” with the relationship between the two countries, also laughed off Duterte’s volatile attitude to that of his alter-egos and people speaking for him, which has been notably inconsistent.
“And you’ve already seen cases where the President himself and even some of his Cabinet officials have walked back some of these statements,” Kirby said.
“In fact, just today I’d point you to comments made by the President’s spokesman himself about the issue of businesses, where the President’s spokesman himself walked that back just today, that there’s no intention to harm the US-Philippines economic relationship or the presence of American businesses there. So even just in the wake of him saying it, his own spokesman walked that back,” he added.
On Tuesday, the President resumed his anti-US rhetoric as he scored US State Department Assistant Secretary of State Daniel Russel by telling him that the US should not treat the Philippines “like a dog on a leash.”
Duterte’s belligerent stance against the United States has unnerved another close ally, Japan, which is worried about China’s expansion of control over the South China Sea.
In his visit to Beijing last week, Duterte promised the Chinese of his “separation” from Washington in the military and economic aspect, only to take back his statements upon arriving at Davao City, saying that he’s not severing our ties with the West.
Shortly after making remarks to “separate” with the United States, his economic managers sought damage control, with Socioeconomic Planning Secretary Ernesto Pernia saying that the President “isn’t an English major” and Trade Secretary Ramon Lopez insisting that Duterte’s statements were “not realistic.”
On Tuesday, Duterte likewise urged foreign businesses in the Philippines who are worried about his deadly war on drugs to “pack up and leave” the country, but Malacañang declined to make any comment to expound on the President’s statements.
Washington and Tokyo are trying to counter Beijing’s encroachment in surrounding waters by forming partnerships with other territorial claimants in the region, such as the Philippines.
Not toning down on his anti-American slur, Duterte instead gave a deadline of “two years” to free the country from foreign troops and abrogate executive agreements, if necessary, to make them happen.
“I have declared that I will pursue an independent foreign policy. I want maybe in the next two years my country freed of the presence of foreign military troops,” the President said in Tokyo, as he detailed his ranting against the United States for criticizing him over his war on illegal drugs.
“I want them out and if I have to revise or abrogate agreements, existing agreements, this will be the last maneuver war games between the United States and the Philippines military,” he said.
Reiterating that the Americans had started the war by threatening to cut off US assistance as a result of human rights violations committed under his administration, Duterte said that America should not treat him “like a dog on a leash.”
“The Americans are really a bully,” Duterte said. “You know, it’s like saying I am a dog on a leash and I said, if you do not stop biting the criminals, we will not throw the bread under your mouth. We will throw it further so that you’ll have to struggle to get it. That is what America wants me to be. A dog barking for the crumbs of their favor and so I said it’s a great country, it has helped us in so many ways in the past but you know and you must know that we are also under a colony of America for 50 years and they lived off the fat of my land,” he added.
US Ambassador to the Philippines Philip Goldberg had earlier said that the US wanted to remain involved in Mindanao to campaign to quell Islamic militancy in Mindanao, citing that security threats in the conflict-plagued region were “very serious.”
Duterte told Japanese businessmen if they want to come to the Philippines, “you’ll just have to contend with the new dynamics of my country.”
He admitted that without the assistance of America, it will be a “lesser quality of life” for Filipinos, but maintain that the country will survive even without them.
“We will survive without the assistance of America. Maybe a lesser quality of life but I said, we will survive and if there is one thing I would like to prove to America and to everybody, there is such a thing as the dignity of the Filipino people,” Duterte said. With AFP