Minister: Philippines doesn’t need US aid

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The Philippines defense minister has said that if the US and EU don’t like Manila’s policies, they should withdraw aid. The statement comes as Manila tells the US it is suspending joint patrols of the South China Sea.

Philipine Defense Minister Delfin Lorenzana joined the country’s leader on Friday in signaling a shift away from relying on Washington. Speaking to a foreign correspondents’ forum, Lorenzana argued that if the US and the European Union didn’t like how Manila was conducting its war on drugs, they could go ahead and withdraw their assistance from the country.

“I think we can live without (that) aid. Our Congress is actually giving us money now for the procurement of equipment. I believe they will give us more if we don’t have a source of other funds,” he said.

Since taking office in June, President Rodrigo Duterte has made it his main policy initiative to wipe out the country’s drug trafficking problem – no matter the cost. In just his first three months in office, nearly 3,000 drug addicts, dealers, and suspects have been killed across the country.

No more joint sea patrols

Lorenzana also announced that Manila had officially informed the US that it was suspending joint patrols and naval exercises in the disputed South China Sea with its longtime ally.

“When (President Rodrigo Duterte) said there will be no more patrols, we already informed our counterparts that there are no more patrols in the meantime,” Lorenzana told reporters.

Planning for the joint patrols began under the previous Philippine government, which sought a greater regional US presence to counter Chinese efforts to take control of the South China Sea.

However, Duterte has warned that he may “break up” with Washington and realign the country’s foreign policy.

Lorenzana also said on Friday that the president intends to halt the 28 military exercises carried out by the two countries every year. Duterte has said that the current joint exercise will be the last during his six-year presidency.

The defense minister also announced that the Philippines would expel the 107 US troops monitoring surveillance drones against Islamic militants as soon as the country had acquired similar intelligence-gathering capabilities.

Duterte doubles down

Despite widespread international criticism of his violent methods, Duterte has refused to back down and has employed ever-more flamboyant rhetoric to double down on his policies. To that end, he even compared himself favorably to Hitler in a speech last week – though he added the caveat that Hitler’s victims were innocent people, while his were not. He later apologized for the statement.

Another facet of his presidency has been to distance the Philippines, if only rhetorically, from the United States. Duterte has not only called US President Barack Obama “a son of a whore” – comments he later backtrack from – but also said the American leader can “go to hell” if he wants to withhold weapon sales to Manila in protest of the violent war on drugs.

Even as the two countries participated in joint military exercises, Duterte threatened that if the US continued to condemn his policies, he would happily buy arms from Russia or China.

es,dm/bw (AP, Reuters)