By Martin Petty
MANILA (Reuters) – Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte said on Friday he would respect defense treaties with “friends” and “ally” the United States, but still wanted foreign troops to leave his country by the end of his term.
Duterte spared the United States one of his trademark verbal lashings and took a more conciliatory tone than usual, although he hinted at revoking the 2014 Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) that gives U.S. troops rotational access to Philippine bases.
“We are friends, with an ally, we have a military pact that would bind us,” he told a pre-dawn news conference upon his return from a visit to Malaysia.
“We will maintain our cooperation … and respect is there, and in all matters between the two countries, especially the treaties we signed with them, so many agreements, we will honor all of these things.”
Duterte has been strongly against, at times furious about, dependence on the former colonial power and has called for the scrapping of dozens of joint exercises.
He said the Philippines did not need the exercises and by the end of his six-year term he wanted no foreign soldiers in his country.
“We do not need any foreigners to train Filipino troops. By themselves they are warriors,” he added.
He also said he would be turning to other countries for defense procurements, like China, Israel, Japan and Russia, because U.S. “gadgets” were expensive.
Duterte, who is often dubbed “Trump of the East” due to his fierce rhetoric and outrageous comments, was asked by a reporter if he thought the Donald Trump comparison was accurate.
“I am just a small molecule on this planet, he is now president of the most powerful country in the world. I am just a president struggling barely just above the water,” he responded.
“No I don’t think so, what we share in common maybe is the passion to serve.”
A change at the White House would not affect his decision to build closer alliances with countries beyond the United States, like China and in Southeast Asia, he said.
“I will pursue what I started, I’m not into habit of reneging on my work,” he said.
(Editing by Robin Pomeroy)