By Raïssa Robles
It is based on interviews with our former United Nations Permanent Representative Lauro Baja, our NEW UN Permanent Representative Teodoro Locsin, Jr., a stock market analyst who preferred not to be named and Rodel Rodis whose group in the US has been accused of plotting to oust President Rodrigo Duterte.
This Tuesday, 1,400 US marines and navy servicemen will train with 500 Filipino soldiers on Philippine soil, for the final time if President Rodrigo Duterte is to be taken at his word.
“You [the United States] are scheduled to hold war games again which China does not want. I will serve notice to you now, this will be the last military exercise,” he said during a visit to Vietnam on September 28.
The military exercises are to be accompanied by humanitarian and engineering projects.
Duterte’s statement caught two key cabinet secretaries off guard. “No, no, no, he did not say that at all,” Perfecto Yasay, Duterte’s foreign secretary, told reporters in Hanoi who had sought clarification.
The next day, the defence department issued this terse statement:
“The DND will await further orders from President Rodrigo R. Duterte regarding the [armed forces’] exercises with the US forces. Defence secretary Delfin N. Lorenzana will discuss this with the president to seek more clarification and guidance. As stated earlier, all agreements and treaties with the US are still in effect. As to succeeding exercises, we will have to sit down with our US counterparts to discuss them.”
Since the US bases were kicked out of the former US colony 25 years ago, succeeding Philippine presidents have all sought to “normalise” relations with the premiere super power. Joseph Estrada – who had voted as senator to kick out the bases – backed a Visiting Forces Agreement that allowed several hundred US soldiers to be present in the country at any given time. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo reeled in greater US support by siding with its war on terror. And Benigno Aquino III pushed for an Enhanced Defence Cooperation Agreement enabling the US to set up permanent military structures for their own use inside Philippine military camps.
In March this year, ahead of the presidential polls, both countries identified five military camps for this purpose. Among them was Fort Magsaysay, the biggest army camp used also for training.
But the newly elected President Duterte now appears to have another plan for Fort Magsaysay and a new arrangement with the US. He disclosed last month that China offered to help him in his “war on drugs” by building a rehabilitation centre for drug addicts inside Fort Magsaysay.
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