DESPITE President Rodrigo Duterte’s public display of anger against America, a number of activities between the US and the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) has been lined up ahead of a meeting of the Mutual Defense Board-Security Engagement Board next month, sources at Camp Aguinaldo disclosed on Wednesday.
One of the sources, who requested anonymity because he is not authorized to speak on the matter, said while the President Duterte has said he does not want anymore bilateral exercises with the US, he has not given concrete guidance or instruction what particular exercise he is against.
“For example, HADR [humanitarian assistance and disaster readiness], it has not thing to do with the West Philippine Sea [South China Sea]. The intelligence exchange program, it also has exercises but it also has nothing to do with the South China Sea. There may be moderation on bilateral exercises within the South China Sea],” the source, a military official, added.
The November meeting of the MDB-SEB is one in a series of defense and security-related dialogues held each year between the Philippines and the United States.
The meetings foster strong relationships between the Philippines and the US military and improve their abilities to work together on mutual defense and security that includes HADR, cyber security and anti-terrorism.
This year, the meeting had been scheduled for October 24 but was moved to November 22 because officials want to finish first the US elections.
“This is an annual meeting between the US Pacific Command and the Armed Forces of the Philippines. This is part of our treaty. As long as the treaty is not abrogated, this is part of the conditions of the treaty,” the source explained.
Among the range of activities scheduled for next month, according to the source are officers’ exchange visit, intelligence exchange, bilateral exercises and HADR.
The military official said these scheduled activities would be presented to Duterte on the first week of November during a Cabinet meeting.
Philippine military officials, he added, are still hoping that the President will clarify his anti-US stance even as he noted that when Duterte makes a statement, it does not mean it is already a policy.
“He made it clear to us that his statement is not the official policy line because it has to be discussed within the Cabinet,” the source said.
But another official said the MDB-SEB meeting may be postponed. He did not elaborate.
This source added that the officials of the AFP and the Department of National Defense (DND) have not received written orders from Duterte on his announcements against the US particularly on bilateral exercises.
He, however, said that after the US elections, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana and other security officials would sit down with the President and present him the pros and cons of joint military exercises.
“From there, he [Lorenzana] will ask the President to decide whether to totally stop or reduce the military drills,” the source added. FERNAN MARASIGAN