Philippines will maintain its military alliances, Duterte says

MANILA (Reuters) - Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte said on Wednesday his country would maintain its existing defense treaties and its military alliances, adding to uncertainty and confusion over the status of security ties with the United States.

Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte gestures as he delivers a speech to the members of the Philippine Army during a visit at the army headquarters in Taguig city, metro Manila, Philippines October 4, 2016. REUTERS/Romeo Ranoco

It an apparent break from a weeks-long torrent of anti-American rhetoric, Duterte suggested defense alliances would continue and his foreign policy was to “realign”, but reiterated joint exercises with U.S. troops, a decades-old tradition, would be stopped.

Part of the re-alignment has been overtures toward China and Russia, which Duterte has spoken highly of and plans to visit in the weeks ahead, starting with China from Oct. 18-21.

“We need not really break or abrogate our existing treaties because they say that it could provide us with the umbrella,” Duterte said in a speech to the coastguard personnel in Manila.

“We will maintain all military alliances because they say we need it for our defense.”

It was not immediately clear who Duterte was attributing the comments to when he mentioned “they” in his justification for maintaining ties.

He told U.S. President Barack Obama last week to “go to hell” and alluded to severing ties with Washington. He also said the Philippines “would not beg” for U.S. aid and dared the U.S. spy agency to oust him.

The maverick former Davao City mayor has expressed anger over U.S. colonial rule and what he called “reprimands” from Washington about his bloody war on drugs.

Duterte’s pronouncements on the status of ties with the United States have created considerable confusion, with U.S. officials adamant that relations are unchanged and Philippine defense officials saying security programs are to be reviewed to determine their relevance.

The Philippines and the United States currently hold 28 exercises together each year, three of which are major programs and the rest minor, according to the Philippine defense ministry.

Though Duterte said the existing military alliances would remain intact, in his speech on Wednesday, he said joint drills were off the table.

“I insist that we realign, that there will be no more exercises next year. Do not prepare,” he said.

“I told Defence Secretary (Delfin) Lorenzana, do not make preparations for next year’s. I don’t want it anymore. I will chart an independent foreign policy.”

Reporting by Martin Petty and Neil Jerome Morales; Editing by Nick Macfie