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Can the US-Philippine Alliance Endure Duterte?

Don't Spook the Gun
Courtesy of Thomas Hawk / Flickr

This article was originally published by the Center for a New American Security (CNAS) on 14 September 2016.

Philippine President Roberto Duterte is continuing his anti-American campaign with two latest bombshell statements, first calling for the fewer than 200 American Special Operations Forces advising and training Philippine troops to exit the southern Philippines. “I don’t want a rift,” he told the press this week, “but they have to go.” The terrorist group Abu Sayyaf, he explained, would kill them on sight, a curious claim since U.S. forces have been helping to counter threats in the southern Philippines for years. Perhaps Duterte’s real motives are designed to permit him to conduct military and law-enforcement operations without worrying about international scrutiny, while at the same time letting China know he is willing to distance himself from his ally if that is the price of major capital investment.

Whatever the real drivers behind Duterte, the Philippine president managed within a mere 24-hours to shock the world by ordering his defense secretary to work on security pronouncements with China and Russia to combat drug traffickers and insurgents and cease joint patrols in the South China Sea alongside the U.S. Navy. In case it wasn’t abundantly clear at this point, Duterte spelled out his position: “I do not like Americans. It’s simply a matter of principle for me.” For a leader actively supporting extra-judicial killings, “principle” may be a relative concept. But the biggest problem is the potential long-term damage that could be caused by Duterte airing his emotions in public.