Peru: The Philippines and the Unites States have agreed to refocus bilateral relations toward nontraditional activities, such as joint cooperation in combating illegal drugs and corruption as well as disaster response.
This came after Foreign Secretary Perfecto Yasay Jr. met with his American counterpart, US Secretary of State John Kerry at the sidelines of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) ministerial meeting in the Peruvian capital.
Speaking to Filipino journalists, Yasay said that, during a “very cordial” meeting, he conveyed to Kerry the assurance of President Rodrigo Duterte that the Philippines would continue its defense cooperation with the US.
But Manila will no longer focus on joint military exercises to avoid “provocations,” particularly in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea).
“Engaging ourselves with the United States insofar as military preparedness for invasion of countries like China then no longer holds true, because we’re in the midst of this conflict or dispute we have insofar as South China Sea is concerned, where we are committed to resolve this in peaceful manner,” Yasay said during a news conference.
“So what we have told the United States is maybe we should tone down and not focus on these joint military exercises which was a fundamental core of our mutual defense agreement, but get into EDCA where we would like to focus on exercises that are nontraditional insofar as building our capacity against nontraditional security threats such as terrorism, even the fight against illegal drugs, even disaster response,” he added.
Yasay was referring to the 2014 Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) that allows US troops rotational access to military bases and camps in the Philippines.
According to him, President Duterte “never said anything about discontinuing EDCA.”
Yasay announced that US Admiral Harry Harris, the new commander of the US Pacific Command, would soon visit the Philippines to discuss areas of joint cooperation.
The meeting of Yasay and Kerry came after Duterte, during a state visit in Beijing in October, announced his military and economic “separation from the United States.”
But the President later clarified that his announcement was “not a severance” of diplomatic ties, just a separation of foreign policy.
The US reacted by saying that Duterte’s controversial statements have created a “climate of uncertainty about the Philippines’ intentions.”