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US-Philippine military ties ‘robust’ despite Duterte threats

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This handout photo atken on November 22, 2016 and released by Armed Forces of the Philippines-Public Affairs Office (AFP-PAO) shows Philippine military chief General Ricardo Visaya (L) and US Pacific Command chief Admiral Harry Harris signing the activisty list for US and Philippine military, during the Mutual Defence Board (MDB) meeting at the military headquarters in Manila. Philippine-US military ties are still "robust" despite threats by President Rodrigo Duterte to sever defence relations between the two allies, Manila's military spokesman said November 22. / AFP PHOTO / AFP-PAO / HO

This handout photo atken on November 22, 2016 and released by Armed Forces of the Philippines-Public Affairs Office (AFP-PAO) shows Philippine military chief General Ricardo Visaya (L) and US Pacific Command chief Admiral Harry Harris signing the activisty list for US and Philippine military, during the Mutual Defence Board (MDB) meeting at the military headquarters in Manila.<br />Philippine-US military ties are still “robust” despite threats by President Rodrigo Duterte to sever defence relations between the two allies, Manila’s military spokesman said November 22. / AFP PHOTO / AFP-PAO / HO

Philippine-US military ties are still “robust” despite threats by President Rodrigo Duterte to sever defence relations between the two allies, Manila’s military spokesman said Tuesday.

Brigadier General Restituto Padilla gave the assurance following the latest meeting of the two countries’ senior military officials to discuss defence cooperation up to 2017.

Duterte last month announced a “separation” from the United States and has called for the withdrawal of American troops from his country, putting into question Manila’s 70-year-old alliance with Washington.

Duterte has also said he would end joint US-Philippine military exercises and called US President Barack Obama a “son of a whore” in response to criticism of his deadly war on drugs.

Despite Duterte’s threats, Philippine military chief General Ricardo Visaya and the commander of US forces in the Pacific Admiral Harry Harris met in Manila on Tuesday.

“The successful completion of the (meeting) ensures continued robust relations between the US and Philippine militaries,” Padilla told reporters.

“This highlights the enduring commitment of both countries to the US-Philippine alliance.”

Padilla said the two militaries looked forward to closer cooperation in disaster relief, counter-terrorism, cybersecurity and maritime security.

The two sides also discussed the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement, an accord signed in 2014 that allows greater rotation of US forces in the Philippines.

But Padilla declined to say whether Visaya and Harris discussed Duterte’s threats.

The new president’s fiery rhetoric has caused confusion in military and diplomatic circles with Duterte threatening to cut back on ties with the United States and vowing to create a new alliance with Russia and China.

Duterte again criticised the US in a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin on the sidelines of a regional summit in Peru over the weekend.

But even with Duterte’s anti-American sentiment, Philippine-US joint exercises have continued to take place and Harris said at a Washington event last week: “There has been no change in anything with the Philippines.”

The Philippine military has said it was awaiting guidelines from Duterte on whether the joint war games would continue to be held next year. The country hosts 28 such exercises annually.

Duterte’s war on drugs has seen more than 4,700 people killed, with the United Nations, the European Union and rights groups raising concerns about alleged extrajudicial killings and a breakdown in the rule of law.

Duterte has insisted he is not doing anything illegal, but would be “happy to slaughter” three million drug users.


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