‘About time we change rules’: Philippines’ Duterte vows to chart independent foreign policy

Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte © Damir Sagolj
The Philippines’ president is determined to end joint patrols with the US in the South China Sea to avoid actions which China might deem hostile. The leader has also reiterated his vow to chart independent foreign policy without breaking existing treaties.

Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte ordered a halt to joint patrols between the Philippine Navy and the US Navy because he did not want his country to take part in activities which could be perceived as hostile by Beijing, presidential spokesperson Ernesto Abella said, according to the Inquirer.

He made a similar statement last month, stating that his country would end the joint patrols because he did not want the Philippines to be dragged into a conflict between the US and China over dominance in the disputed waterway.

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Duterte also reiterated his desire to end joint war games between the US and the Philippines on Wednesday, while speaking during the Philippine Coast Guard anniversary.

“It’s about time we change the rules here,” he said. “I insist that we realign, that there will be no more exercises next year. Do not prepare, I told Defense Secretary Lorenzana. Do not make preparations for next year’s [war games]. I don’t want it anymore.”

“I will chart an independent foreign policy. We will not break or abrogate existing treaties because they say this will provide us with an umbrella,” he added.

It comes after an announcement last month in which Duterte said that this year’s Philippine Amphibious Landing Exercise (Phiblex 33) joint military exercise between the US and the Philippines would be the last one. 

Philippines Supreme Court Associate Justice Antonio Carpio has urged the president to reconsider his decisions.

“There is only one power on earth that can stop the Chinese from poaching on the Philippine EEZ and that is the [United States],” he said, adding that the Constitution of the Philippines mandates that the state protect the country’s territorial waters and EEZ (exclusive economic zone).

But Abella insisted that Duterte’s decision has been “carefully considered,” and that the president is “fully aware of his responsibility regarding the EEZ.”

“He has his own alternatives regarding the matter,” Abella said.

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The call to end joint patrols is the latest move in the already tense relationship between the US and the Philippines, which began over Duterte’s war on drugs. The anti-drug campaign, which has led to the deaths of at least 3,600 people since May, has prompted concern from Western governments and the UN.

Earlier this week, Duterte criticized US President Barack Obama’s “arrogance” as he announced a trip to China – a historic rival – to discuss partnership projects.

The statement aimed at Obama was not the first negative remark to be made towards the US leader. Duterte called Obama a “son of a b**ch/whore” in September, after hearing news that the US leader was to address the country’s war on drugs. The comment, which Duterte later said was not directed towards Obama, led to the White House canceling scheduled talks between the two leaders.