The Philippine government announced Friday it had officially informed the United States of the suspension of West Philippine Sea (South China Sea) patrols with its longtime ally, following orders from President Rodrigo Duterte.
“They have been suspended for the time being. They (Washington) know it already,” Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana told reporters, adding he had relayed the decision to the commander of the US Pacific Command when he was in Hawaii at the start of this month.
Still, Lorenzana indicated he was still not 100 percent sure of Duterte’s final plans.
“They will not be conducted anymore until we clarify if he (Duterte) means what he says,” Lorenzana said.
The allies began planning joint patrols under the previous Philippine government, which had sought to attract a greater US military presence in the region to counter Chinese efforts to take control of the South China Sea.
China claims nearly all of the sea, even waters close to the Philippines and other Southeast Asian nations, and has in recent years built artificial islands in the disputed areas capable of hosting military bases.
Duterte, who began his six-year term on June 30, quickly changed course, seeking cooperation and dialogue with China.
Duterte also revealed a deep dislike of the United States, and railed against the Philippines’ former colonial ruler for criticizing his war on illegal drugs, which has claimed more than 3,300 lives and raised concerns about extrajudicial killings.
“I have lost my respect for America,” Duterte said on Tuesday, as he threatened to break ties completely with the United States.
He had also said he wanted US Special Forces out of the southern region of Mindanao, where they have been helping to quell Islamic militants, and threatened to scrap a 2014 agreement granting American troops increased access to Philippine bases.
Duterte also said he would cancel all 28 military exercises the two sides hold annually.
However, until Friday, officials from both sides had said Duterte’s pronouncements were not necessarily policy.
US officials had repeatedly said they had not been officially informed of Duterte’s comments.
The announcement that the joint patrols had been suspended was the first official confirmation that one of Duterte’s anti-US comments had become policy.
Lorenzana said none of the other Duterte pronouncements had been officially delivered to the Americans.