The United States and the Philippines have launched joint military drills following Manila’s decision to end its long-running maneuvers with Washington.
Some 1,400 US soldiers from Washington’s base in Okinawa, Japan, joined some 500 Philippine army personnel in the 33rd iteration of the Philippines Amphibious Landing Exercises (PHIBLEX33), media reports said Monday.
The PHIBLEX33 runs from October 4 to 12 at multiple locations on the island of Luzon and the Province of Palawan between the South China Sea and the Sulu Sea.
The wargames include joint amphibious landing drills, live-fire training and humanitarian civil assistance exercises.
The drills are reportedly designed to advance military cooperation, improve interoperability and help strengthen bilateral military capabilities.
The maneuvers are the first between the two countries’ military forces since the Philippines’ outspoken leader, President Rodrigo Duterte, came to power in May.
“This year would be the last,” Duterte said of the joint military exercises in a speech Friday in the southern city of Davao.
Duterte has called on foreign countries, including the United States, to stop meddling in Manila’s affairs, and withdraw their forces from the Philippines.
On Friday, Defense Minister Delfin Lorenzana echoed the president’s remarks, saying, “I think we can live without [US] assistance.”
Lorenzana said plans for joint patrols and naval exercises with the United States in the disputed South China Sea have been put on hold.
“28 joint military exercises that the countries carry out each year ... will be stopped, patrols with US navy vessels in the South China Sea had ended and 107 American troops flying surveillance drones ... would soon leave as soon as Philippine soldiers were equipped to take over their duties,” he said.
The move is the first concrete break in military cooperation after months of diplomatic tensions between Manila and Washington.
On Thursday, Foreign Minister Perfecto Yasay said Manila is “compelled to realign” its foreign policy and not submit to US demands.
Yasay said that the Philippines would seek to engage with China, and would be mindful of the lessons it had learned from being too close to Washington.
Meanwhile, US State Department spokesman John Kirby said the United States was “mindful of the rhetoric” of Manila.