Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte has continued his antagonistic diplomatic approach towards the United States, stating Monday that American soldiers in the southern island of Mindanao “have to go” or face kidnapping and violence from Islamic State affiliate Abu Sayyaf.
“The special forces, they have to go. They have to go in Mindanao. There are many whites there,” he said from Mindanao, his home island. Duterte has previously referred to Middle Easterners and non-native Filipino Muslims as “white people.”
“If they see an American, they would kill him. They would demand ransom then kill him. Even if you’re a black or white American as long as you are an American, (they will kill you),” he argued. With American troops present, “the situation there will worsen… I do not want a rift with America. But they have to go.”
Washington has traditionally enjoyed friendly relations with Manila, and the Philippines still relies on military agreements with the U.S. for much of its security. The Philippine Star report notes that the Philippine constitution does not allow foreign troops to engage in active combat on behalf of the Philippines, so U.S. troops based in Mindanao have been exclusively in an advisory role. Rappler adds that American soldiers “have a rotating presence in the region as part of the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) which the Philippine government signed with the US government.”
The administration of Duterte’s predecessor, Benigno Aquino, enjoyed warm relations with the United States and relied on an American military presence to keep China’s forces at bay in disputed South China Sea territory. Duterte, meanwhile, has taken a far more adversarial approach to relations with Washington. During his remarks Monday, Duterte called the United States “a hypocrite” country, citing the 1906 killing of native Filipinos known locally as the Bud Dajo massacre.
“For as long as we stay with America, we will never have peace in that land [Mindanao]. We might as well give it up,” Duterte of the massacre.
Accusing the United States of having sparked unrest in the heavily Muslim-populated south of the country is among the milder remarks Duterte has made of America. Last week, President Obama canceled a meeting with Duterte after the latter referred to the head of state as “putang ina,” a Tagalog phrase roughly meaning “son of a whore.” Obama later met Duterte anyway, though they did not discuss any business. The president dismissed the slur, noting that Duterte had used the same phrase to refer to Pope Francis.
Unlike the “putang ina” incident, Duterte’s spokespeople are not trying to tone down his call for America to withdraw from Mindanao.
“He (Duterte) has made reference to the unrecognized, unrepented and unatoned for massacre at Bud Dajo in Sulu by the Americans, hence our continued connection with West is the real reason for the ‘Islamic’ threat in Mindanao,” presidential spokesman Ernesto Abella said of those remarks. “The American silence on the matter lacks congruence with its ‘moral’ position, in the light of actions taken in the past by the Germans who confessed and made atonement for the Holocaust, and Japan which made reparations for the atrocities it perpetrated among the peoples they conquered.”
With Abu Sayyaf, Duterte initially used much more conciliatory language than he had with the United States, urging them to come to the negotiating table along with other Muslim insurgency groups like the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF). MILF has agreed to a peace deal contingent on Duterte not attacking them. Abu Sayyaf responded to the same offer by bombing Davao City, Duterte’s hometown.
Duterte signed an official “declaration of lawlessness” after the bombing and took on a much harsher tone against the Islamic State affiliate, which engaged in the kidnapping and beheading of Western foreigners as well as bombings. “I will really open up your body. Just give me vinegar and salt, and I will eat you,” he warned Abu Sayyaf terrorists earlier this month. “Go ahead. Set off bombs. Time will come when I will eat you in front of the people.”