THE US ambassador to Manila said a “separation” between the Philippines and the US would be difficult as the two nations were “inextricably linked,” as Washington announced that a top official of the US Department of State would be coming over to clarify President Rodrigo Duterte’s statement that he was breaking the Philippines’ military and economic ties with the United States.
US Ambassador Philip Goldberg said Duterte’s statement in Beijing was contrary to the fact that Washington and Manila continue to work closely in many areas of mutual interest to improve the lives of Filipinos.
The US has a large assistance program in the Philippines, including humanitarian assistance, scholarships and disaster relief operations, he noted.
“From our point of view, we’re not suing for divorce,” he said in a television interview.
“I think we need more clarification about what the President said while he was in China. Quite frankly, I don’t know what he means by a separation,” he said.
The firebrand Duterte rarely lets a day pass without taunting the United States but his latest comments, made during a state visit to Beijing, were the strongest signal he wants to torpedo a 70-year alliance in favor of China and Russia.
“I announce my separation from the United States,” Duterte said Thursday as he paused to soak up the applause from hundreds of Chinese businessmen in the audience.
“I’ve realigned myself in your ideological flow and maybe I will also go to Russia to talk to [President Vladimir] Putin and tell him that there are three of us against the world: China, Philippines and Russia. It’s the only way.”
Goldberg surmised that Filipinos were not in favor of severing Philippines-US ties, citing public opinion polls.
The outgoing envoy said incoming US Ambassador to the Philippines Sung Kim would be facing a tough job of patching the rocky relationship of the formerly close allies.
“We’re going to a period of some uncertainty that we need to figure out. We want to continue this relationship. We’re committed to this relationship; we’re committed to an alliance between the two countries,” he said.
In Washington, spokesman John Kirby said the US State department was “baffled” by the latest statements of Duterte.
He said Daniel Russel, the department’s assistant secretary for East Asian and Pacific Affairs, was scheduled to meet his counterparts in Manila this weekend, and would seek clarification on what the tough-talking Duterte meant by his declaration.
“We are going to be seeking an explanation of exactly what the President meant when he talked about separation from the US. It’s not clear to us exactly what that means in all its ramifications, so we’re going to be seeking a clarification on that,” Kirby said in his regular news briefing in Washington.
“We have heard from many of our friends and partners in the region who are likewise confused about where this is going, and also we believe are trying to learn more on their own about what it portends,” he added.
Despite Duterte’s increasingly sharp criticism of the US, Kirby maintained that Washington’s commitment to its Mutual Defense Treaty with Manila remained “rock-solid” and that he was hoping the 70-year relationship would “continue to grow and to develop and to deepen.”
‘Stronger integration with neighbors’
A frequent pattern following Duterte’s explosive remarks against the United States, the crime war and other hot-button issues has been for his aides or Cabinet secretaries to try to downplay, clarify or otherwise interpret them.
And within a few hours of Duterte’s “separation” remarks, his finance and economic planning secretaries released a joint statement saying the Philippines would not break ties with Western nations.
“We will maintain relations with the West but we desire stronger integration with our neighbors,” they said.
Trade Secretary Ramon Lopez also insisted the Philippines would not break with the United States.
“I guess this will be explained better by the people around the President,” Lopez said in a television interview.
“But what is clear to me, we’re basically continuing with those activities, but it’s just breaking the dependence with those countries.”