A day after calling for the withdrawal of American troops from his nation, firebrand Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte said Tuesday he does not want the Philippine Navy to engage in joint patrols of disputed waters in the South China Sea with the U.S. — despite an agreement struck by his predecessor just months ago.
While other Filipino officials tried to play down the notion that an anti-U.S. shift is underway, Mr. Duterte’s moves come a week after he made global headlines by calling President Obama a “son of a whore” — and have raised red flags in Washington over the reliability of a longstanding ally at a time of growing economic, military and diplomatic pressure from China.
Mr. Duterte, a 71-year-old maverick and longtime provincial mayor, has been called the “Filipino Donald Trump” since winning the presidency in May. He also said Tuesday that he’s now seriously considering buying weapons from Russia and China, despite Manila’s longtime reliance on Washington for defense purchases and other security needs.
But it was his comments on South China Sea security patrols with the U.S., a longtime treaty ally, that drew the most attention. Mr. Duterte seemed to be scrapping a deal that U.S. officials inked early this year with former Filipino President Benign Aquino III designed to counter China’s increasingly aggressive sovereignty claims in the heavily trafficked and strategic waterway.
Mr. Aquino had spent years pursuing closer defense ties with Washington, and in 2014 Manila agreed to give U.S. forces access to several Filipino military bases. One of the bases is located in the southern region of Mindanao, where the Filipino troops have for years battled Islamic militants.
In April, meanwhile, the Philippine navy began joint South China Sea patrols with the U.S. Navy. By June the Pentagon had also deployed warplanes and about 120 personnel to the northern Philippines for short-term training missions aimed at ensuring Filipino and U.S. access to the South China Sea.