President Rodrigo Duterte on Monday said he was about to pass a point of no return in terms of the country’s relationship with the United States, as he would soon open economic alliances with Russia and China.
Duterte recalled his meeting with Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev at the sidelines of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations summits in Laos in early September.
“We had a one-on-one meeting and I said, ‘I think I’m about to cross the Rubicon with the United States, at least for the six years [of my term],” Duterte said in a speech before Palace reporters, using the expression that came from Julius Caesar’s decision to cross the Rubicon River in 49 B.C., which irrevocably put him at war against Pompey and the Roman Senate.
“I will need your help in everything – trade, commerce – and I will open up,” the President added.
But in a press conference after the event, Duterte clarified his statement, saying that the Philippines didn’t have any plans to junk its alliance with the US.
“Actually I said I’m ready to, not really break ties, but we will open up alliances with China and Russia,” the President told reporters.
Asked what “crossing the Rubicon” with the US meant in terms of concrete foreign policy, Duterte said he found it problematic that, despite defense treaties, there were no assurances the US would come to the Philippines’ aid in times of war.
“There is an RP-US Pact that was in the ‘50s. It says that an attack on the Philippines would be an attack of the United States. But in the United States Constitution, it says that before a President can declare war, with anybody in defense of an ally, he has to go to Congress for permission to go to war. That’s the problem. So if Congress will not give him that authority, what will happen to us?” he said.
As to opening alliances with China and Russia, Duterte said he was referring to economic alliances, not military alliances.
The Philippines and the US are treaty allies, having signed a Mutual Defense Treaty in 1951 and a Visiting Forces Agreement in 1998.
Manila and Washington also signed an Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement in 2014 that allows rotational presence of US troops in designated Philippine military camps.
The US is also the Philippines’ biggest foreign investor and the country’s second biggest export market, next to Japan.
But the relationship has been frayed under Duterte, who has bristled at criticism on the rising death toll of his administration’s drug war from the US and other institutions such as the United Nations and the European Union.