Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte told leaders in Qatar and Bahrain during a regional visit this weekend that he would deploy Philippine troops to the region if necessary, promising that his soldiers are “very disciplined.”
“I said I am even willing, if you are in trouble, if you are short with manpower, I have a very disciplined military and I can send them here,” Duterte said he told Qatari businessmen in a speech on Saturday. “It is of our national interest that the Gulf states who have provided employment and thereby contributed to the gross national product of my country.”
“Just like any other Army in the world, they are very disciplined. And they can fight. Fight our national interest here and to protect and defend you,” he assured listeners.
Duterte made a similar promise in Bahrain. “If you want [our] soldiers under your command, I’m willing to send you one battalion, one regiment, one division to protect you. Just say the word,” President Rodrigo Duterte said in remarks on Friday before heading to Qatar. He told his audience that he made this promise to King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa directly.
In Bahrain, Duterte explained that his promise to deploy troops was meant as a sign of gratitude to their government for giving jobs to Philippine workers there.
“We are, maybe far away, thousands of miles, but one of our most important national interest is really the kindness and accommodation that you have extended to my brother Filipinos,” he told a group of businessmen. “That is why I said to His Royal Highness, that that national interest is very important. And I committed to stand by you at all times.”
“And I said that if you need us, you just call. And if you want even, if things break loose – I pray to God that it will remain fundamentally on the side of the Middle East, peaceful – but if there’s a violent activity going on, we will be ready to help you,” he promised.
“If you want [our] soldiers under your command, I’m willing to send you one battalion, one regiment, one division to protect you. Just say the word,” he continued. “We want to repay you. … We don’t have the resources, we don’t have the oil, but we can offer our lives to you.”
The Philippine Star notes that Duterte also assured Saudi Arabia that he would meet any need for Philippine troops. “We are a good ally, we are loyal friends and we will stand by you,” he reportedly told King Salman Abdulaziz Al Saud.
Upon returning from his Mideast trip Monday, Duterte reaffirmed his commitment to sending troops to the region. “I told them that I will help them because of what they did for my countrymen. We will die for them,” he told reporters.
On Tuesday, National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon Jr. explained that any deployment to the Middle East would likely be a part of “specialized courses or training” and would take up to a year to approve. “There’s no such thing as a military operational deployment,” he insisted. The Philippine military is currently beginning Exercise Balikatan, a set of annual military exercises done jointly with the American military.
Whether Balikatan would take place this year remained an open question for some months as Duterte asserted that he would no longer seek to keep military ties with America. Since President Donald Trump took office, however, Duterte has begun reaffirming his ties to Washington. In Qatar, he referred to Trump as a “deep thinker” and joked, “Have you seen his buildings? How can he be stupid?” Duterte had, in contrast, referred to President Barack Obama as a “son of a whore” on multiple occasions.
Duterte traveled to the Middle East last week seeking to strengthen economic ties and sign new agreements on “health, culture, technical vocational education and training,” according to Manila.
CNN notes that more than 400,000 Philippine troops are already stationed in the Middle East.