U.S. and Philippine forces opened joint combat exercises under some uncertainty on Tuesday, days after the Philippines’ new leader said they would be the last such drills of his six-year presidency.
Hovering over the drill is also Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte’s latest statement about U.S. ally Barack Obama.
In a speech attended by officials and business executives, Duterte outlined his disappointments with the U.S., describing Washington as an unreliable ally, saying Filipino forces have not benefited from joint combat exercises with U.S. troops.
“Instead of helping us, the first to criticize is this State Department, so you can go to hell, Mr. Obama, you can go to hell,” Duterte said. Then addressing the EU, he said: “Better choose purgatory, hell is filled up.”
Duterte, who took office in June, has been hypersensitive to criticism over his crackdown, which has left more than an estimated 3,000 suspected drug dealers and pushers dead in just three months, alarming the United Nations, the E.U., the U.S. and human rights watchdogs.
The tough-talking former city mayor, who describes himself as a left-leaning leader, has had an uneasy relationship with the U.S. and with Obama and has declared intentions to bolster relations with China and Russia as he revamps the country’s foreign policy that has long leaned on Washington.
Marine commanders from both sides said at the opening ceremony that the military exercises, involving 1,100 American and 400 Filipino military personnel, are aimed at improving readiness by the two countries to respond to a range of crises while deepening their historic ties.
Duterte also said last week that the maneuvers would be the last of his term, which began in June.
His foreign secretary later said the decision was not final, sparking questions as to whether other annual U.S.-Philippine military exercises would proceed as planned.
U.S. Embassy officials said Washington has not been formally notified by the Philippine government of any move to scrap other planned drills.
Story by the Associated Press
Song Qingrun on US-Philippines military drills
For more on US-Philippines military drills, CCTV America’s Mike Walter spoke to Song Qingrun, Senior Research Fellow, China Institute of Contemporary International Relations.