Philippine defense chief says Duterte may be 'misinformed' on U.S. alliance

MANILA (Reuters) - The Philippine defense minister sought to patch up cracks in a military alliance with the United States on Wednesday, saying President Rodrigo Duterte, who has appeared intent on scrapping joint programs, might be misinformed about their value.

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte speaks during a news conference in Davao city, southern Philippines August 21, 2016. REUTERS/Lean Daval Jr

Referring to recent strongly worded comments by Duterte, in which he has declared that the Philippines military gained little from U.S. security ties, Defence Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said the armed forces were still weak and the country got a lot out of the U.S. relationship.

“That’s why I said the president was misinformed, because I think the information he is getting is incomplete,” Lorenzana told reporters, a day after the launch of the latest round of PHIBLEX military exercises involving troops from both sides.

“Maybe, the defense ministry and the armed forces were remiss in providing him the correct information. This, we will address in the coming days.”

The United States has been on the receiving end of a torrent of hostility from Duterte, who was angered by U.S. expressions of concern over his war on drugs.

On Tuesday, Duterte said U.S. President Barack Obama should “go to hell” and that in his time, he might “break up” with Washington, with which Manila has had a security treaty since 1951.

Last week, he also caused a stir when he said the PHIBLEX exercises would be “the last one” and on Sunday said a U.S.-Philippines Enhanced Defence Cooperation Agreement would be reviewed.

That deal includes setting up storage facilities for maritime security, humanitarian and disaster response operations and grants U.S. troops some access to Philippine bases.

Lorenzana said the ongoing exercises gave Philippine troops exposure to new guns, technology and body armor and training in warfare tactics, marksmanship and quick responses to natural disasters.

“According to him, only the American troops are benefiting from those exercises,” he said, referring to his president.

“But based on what we gathered from the GHQ (general headquarters) and army, there are (benefits).”

U.S. officials have played down Duterte’s remarks, focusing instead on the decades-long alliance which they have sought to bolster in recent years in response to China’s moves to enforce its claims over the South China Sea.

The White House said on Tuesday the United States had not received any formal communications from Duterte’s government about changing the relationship.

Reporting by Martin Petty; Editing by Robert Birsel