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Pentagon downplays Philippine leader’s threat to scrap treaty

Philippine President-elect Rodrigo Duterte . / AFP PHOTO / TED ALJIBE

Philippine President-elect Rodrigo Duterte . / AFP PHOTO / TED ALJIBE

The Pentagon on Monday downplayed comments from Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte, after he threatened to cancel a defense accord with the United States.

Duterte on Sunday said he might scrap the treaty, known as the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA), that went into force in January.

That agreement, sealed under the administration of Duterte’s predecessor, Benigno Aquino, allows US forces access to five Philippine bases to help counterbalance a growing Chinese presence in the South China Sea.

“This EDCA is an official document… but it does not bear the signature of the president of the republic,” Duterte said.

“Better think twice now because I will be asking you to leave the Philippines altogether,” he added.

Pentagon spokesman Navy Captain Jeff Davis said the military was aware of Duterte’s comments.

But “it hasn’t really so much translated into tangible actions that we’ve seen with regards to our actions under the alliance,” he said.

“In as much as our alliance with the Philippines is concerned, it’s very much solid and stable and secure and on track,” he added, pointing to continued cooperation in military exercises and assistance with counterterrorism operations in the southern Philippines.

Pentagon chief Ashton Carter last week met with 10 Southeast Asian defense ministers, including the Philippines’ Delfin Lorenzana.

Carter said the two had “very good” discussions about the continuation of the two countries’ military alliance, which dates back more than 60 years, and which he called “ironclad.”

Duterte’s foul-mouthed outbursts since he was elected in May have frequently taken aim at the United States, including his calling US President Barack Obama a “son of a whore.”

Duterte has also repeatedly threatened to move away from the United States and forge closer ties China and Russia.

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