In what has now become a daily ritual, one day after Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte dared Barack Obama to "withdraw assistance", not missing the opportunity to insert one "you can go to hell, Mr Obama", on Friday the outspoken president once again took aim at the US, this time targeting the CIA, whom he urged to try and oust him, as he branded Western critics of his deadly crime war "animals" and vowed many more killings.
Whether due to paranoia, or simply the result of historical precedent, in two fiery speeches to mark his 100 days in office, Duterte repeatedly raised the prospect of local or foreign opponents seeking to remove him from power in an effort to stop the violence. But, as Channel News Asia reports, he insisted he would not be intimidated and that his campaign against drugs, in which an average of more than 33 people a day are being killed, would not end.
"You want to oust me? You want to use the CIA? Go ahead," Duterte said in a speech in his southern home town of Davao city, referring to the Central Intelligence Agency, while railing against US President Barack Obama and other critics. The speech follows and accusation last month in which Duterte said the CIA was plotting to kill him, but gave no specifics.
"Be my guest. I don't give a shit," he said. "I'll be ousted? Fine. (If so) it's part of my destiny. Destiny carries so many things. If I die, that's part of my destiny. Presidents get assassinated."
Meanwhile, in the first concrete break in defense cooperation between the US and the Philippines after months of increasingly strident comments by the country's new president, the Philippine defense chief said Friday he told the U.S. military that plans for joint patrols and naval exercises in the disputed South China Sea have been put on hold, the AP reported. Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana also said that 107 U.S. troops involved in operating surveillance drones against Muslim militants would be asked to leave the southern part of the country once the Philippines acquires those intelligence-gathering capabilities in the near future.
President Rodrigo Duterte also wants to halt the 28 military exercises that are carried out with U.S. forces each year, Lorenzana said. Duterte has said he wants an ongoing U.S.-Philippine amphibious beach landing exercise to be the last in his six-year presidency as he backs away from what he views as too much dependence on the U.S.
"This year would be the last," Duterte said of military exercises involving the Americans in a speech Friday in southern Davao city where he lashed out at the U.S. anew and repeated his readiness to be ousted from office for his hard-line stance.
"For as long as I am there, do not treat us like a doormat because you'll be sorry for it," Duterte said. "I will not speak with you. I can always go to China."
In Washington, State Department spokesman John Kirby said the U.S. government is not aware of any official notification on curtailing military exercises. He said the U.S. remains focused on its security commitments to Philippines, with which it has a mutual defense treaty.
"We think comments like this, whether they are or will be backed up by actual action or not, are really at odds with the closeness of the relationships that we have with the people of the Philippines and which we fully intend to continue," Kirby told reporters.
Earlier this week, the outspoken Philippines leader said his US counterpart Barack Obama, whom he has previously publicly called a “son of a whores,” should “go to hell.”
Asked to comment on the possibility that the current joint maneuvers will be the last, Major Roger Hollenbeck, a US military spokesman for the drills, gave a fatalistic response: “If it’s the last, so be it.”
“I have nothing to do with that and we are going to continue to work together; we’ve got a great relationship,” he added. Experts say the Philippines president’s plans to limit the presence of US troops will thwart Washington’s intention to beef up US forces in Southeast Asia in order to counter China.
“President Duterte’s shoot-from-the-hip style of parochial democracy is deeply troubling,” Carl Thayer, an expert on the South China Sea, told AP. “If Duterte moves to curtail US rotational military presence from bases in the Philippines, this would undermine the US ability to deter China not only in defense of Philippines sovereignty, but regional security as well.”
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Duterte's falling out with Washington will not necessarily spread to U.S. allies such as Japan, for example, which has committed to deliver patrol ships for the Philippine coast guard and has signed a deal to lease five small surveillance planes the country can use to bolster its territorial defense. The planes may arrive as early as next month, Lorenzana said.
The U.S. and Japan have helped the Philippines develop its capabilities to safeguard and defend its territorial waters amid China's increasingly aggressive actions in the South China Sea. Under Duterte's predecessor, Benigno Aquino III, the U.S. and Philippine militaries twice staged naval exercises near the disputed waters.
While taking a critical stance on U.S. security policies, Duterte has reached out to China and Russia.
In the latest ongoing failure for US foreign politics, Lorenzana said he has been ordered by Duterte to travel to Beijing and Moscow to discuss what defense equipment the Philippines can acquire from them. Lorenzana told a foreign correspondents’ forum on Friday that Manila should probably “re-assess” its relationship with the US and the benefits of the alliance, asserting that the country’s military would survive even if Washington were to withdraw its aid completely.
“We can live without (that),” Lorenzana said, Reuters reported. The value of US military aid to Manila is “not that much,” the country’s Defense chief added, insisting that military officials could ask the Philippines Congress to make up for a $50-$100 million shortfall a year in aid from Washington.