Philippine Uncertainty

The work of the US-Philippines alliance is continuing despite criticism from President Rodrigo Duterte, Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Daniel Russel said Wednesday. “There is a lot of noise and a lot of uncertainty associated with our cooperation with the Philippines at this moment, but we’re working through that, and we’ve been through a lot worse in our 70-year history,” Russel said. On Tuesday, Duterte said he will not abandon the defense treaty, but questioned the need for it, according to the Associated Press. He also questioned the benefit of continuing joint exercises with the US military. Russel said he is “not aware of any material change in the security cooperation between the US and the Philippines as of now” even though Filipino leaders have informed their US counterparts that joint patrols of the South China Sea will be put on hold and that American service members operating in the southern part of the county will be asked to leave in the future. “There’s a difference between talking about these things and actually stopping,” Russel said. “I’m not saying that it won’t happen, it couldn’t happen, merely that there’s a distinction to be made between general, high-level pronouncements and considered policy decisions and actions.”

Russel said the outcome of Duterte’s recent “colorful” statements regarding the relationship between the two counties “is a question that we don’t have an answer to just yet.” Senior officials have been in regular discussions about practical matters related to the alliance, he added. “If the government of the Philippines proposes specific changes to the way that we operate, to exercises, to other aspects of our security relationship, or other relationships, we’ll deal with that,” Russel said. “There’s a lot of noise. There’s a lot of stray voltage in the media. But ultimately the decisions about the alliance operations are going to be taken, I believe, in a deliberate and thoughtful way.” Russel said he believes the public popularity of the US-Philippines alliance and the benefits it provides to the Filipino people make it “improbable” that any leader of the Philippines would distance himself or herself from the United States in a sustained way.