Philippine Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana says plans for joint patrols and naval exercises with the United States in the disputed South China Sea have been put on hold.
The move is the first concrete break in defense cooperation after months of diplomatic tension between Manila and Washington.
Lorenzana said on Friday that his country would call for Washington to pull out over one hundred US troops involved in operating surveillance drones in southern Philippines. The defense secretary said, however, the pullout would take place once Manila acquired intelligence-gathering capabilities.
The Filipino defense chief said President Rodrigo Duterte sought to halt the 28 military exercises that are conducted annually with US forces.
Duterte has said that he wants an ongoing US-Philippine amphibious beach landing exercise to be the last in his six-year term as he backs away from what he views as too much dependence on Washington.
“This year would be the last,” Duterte said of the joint military exercises in a speech Friday in the southern city of Davao.
Duterte, a former mayor of Davao, won the presidency in May, promising to suppress crime and wipe out drugs and drug dealers in three to six months.
More than 3,500 people, or about 47 per day, have been killed during his tenure over the past months in connection with the illegal drugs trade, nearly two thirds by unknown assailants and the rest in legitimate police operations, according to local police.
In reaction to the West’s criticism of his anti-drug campaign, Duterte said on Thursday if the United States and the European Union objected to his campaign against drugs and wished to withdraw aid, they should do so, and the Philippines would not beg.
Elsewhere in his Friday remarks, the Filipino defense minister said Manila could manage even without Washington's aid.
The Filipino defense chief said that his country intended to buy arms from other countries such as China and Russia.
“We can live without (that),” Lorenzana told a foreign correspondents' forum.
According to US State Department spokesman John Kirby, the total US assistance to the Philippines in the fiscal year that began on October 1 was $180 million.