Speaking in Washington after recent remarks by the Philippines’ outspoken new President Rodrigo Duterte that have strained relations with the United States, Manila’s main ally, Yasay said some of Duterte’s remarks had been misunderstood.
He said Duterte had explained that his call for the withdrawal of U.S. special forces from the southern Philippines was only a temporary measure to keep them out of harm’s way while Philippine forces undertook an offensive against Abu Sayyaf militants.
Yasay also said Duterte’s opposition to joint maritime patrols with the United States concerned the Philippines’ “exclusive economic zone,” not joint patrols within 12 nautical miles of its coast.
The latter patrols, aimed at preserving the territorial integrity of the Philippines, “must continue, because this is our commitment to the United States,” Yasay said at the Center for Strategic and International Studies think tank.
The Philippines and the United States share concerns about China’s pursuit of broad claims in the South China Sea, which overlap with those of Manila and other neighbors.
Washington and Manila agreed earlier this year on joint patrols in the South China Sea and a Pentagon spokesman said three had been conducted from March until July.
Yasay rejected criticism of Duterte’s war on drugs, in which thousands have been killed, saying that Philippines would never condone illegal killings, and said relations with Washington should be based on mutual respect.
“I am asking our American friends, American leaders, to look at our aspirations,” he said. “We cannot forever be the little brown brothers of America. … We have to develop, we have to grow and become the big brother of our own people.
“You (have to) manage it correctly. You do not go to the Philippines and say ‘I am going to give you something, I am going to help you grow, but this is the check list you must comply with – we will lecture you on human rights’.”
Yasay stressed that Duterte was “firmly committed to keep and respect alliances, including that with the United States.”
He said Manila was “not at this point in time” prepared to sit down and discuss its territorial disputes with China bilaterally, given that the two sides differed on what the framework for any such discussions should be.
Duterte’s abrasive and sometimes contradictory comments, including calling President Obama a “son of a bitch,” have caused anxiety in Washington, where the Philippines has been seen as an important ally in standing up to China in Asia.
Yasay did not address testimony in the Philippines senate earlier in the day from a self-confessed hit man who said Duterte issued assassination orders while mayor of a city where activists say hundreds of summary executions took place.
Asked to comment on this testimony, a spokeswoman for the U.S. State Department, Anna Richey-Allen, reiterated past comments that it was “deeply concerned” by reports of extrajudicial killings “by or at the behest of government authorities.”
“We strongly urge the Philippines to ensure its law enforcement efforts comply with its human rights obligations,” she said. – Reuters