Duterte said that he will honor the Philippines’ 1951 defense treaty with the US and maintain the military alliance between the two nations, but would only proceed with the war games so not to embarrass his Secretary of National Defense, Delfin Lorenzana.
During his two-day visit to meet with Vietnamese leadership, Duterte talked about building commercial and trade relationships with Russia and China. He also mentioned the possibility of acquiring military equipment from Beijing and Moscow.
"I will maintain the military alliance because there is an RP (Republic of the Philippines)-US pact which our countries signed in the early '50s," he said, "I will establish new alliances for trade and commerce and you are scheduled to hold war games again, which China does not want."
To the contrary, Perfecto Yasay Jr, Philippine Secretary of Foreign Affairs, told Hanoi reporters that the games will continue until 2017, at which point Washington and Manila will assess whether the exercises should continue. He said Duterte was "simply saying for now, taking into account the political reality, he does not want the joint military exercises to continue."
Tensions have arisen of late between the Philippines and the US, particularly after Duterte publicly called US President Barack Obama a "son a whore" ahead of a meeting between the two heads of state. The Obama Administration subsequently canceled a bilateral meeting in Laos, opting to meet with South Korean President Park Geun-hye instead.
Philippines presidential spokesman Ernesto Abella later read a statement from Duterte saying, "While the immediate cause was my strong comments to certain press questions that elicited concern and distress, we also regret that it came across as a personal attack on the US president," and that the meeting had been "mutually agreed upon to be moved to a later date."
Duterte also in early September ordered all US special forces out of the Philippines, claiming that their presence was harming Manila’s attempts at peace talks with militant Muslim groups.
"I do not want a rift with America, but they have to go. It will just get more tense…The (Muslim) people will become more agitated. If they see an American, they will really kill him," he said at the time.
Meanwhile, the Pentagon on Thursday looked to brush aside Duterte’s skepticism, reiterating US claims that relations between the two countries are solid.
"As it has been for decades, our alliance with the Philippines is ironclad," US Defense Secretary Ashton Carter said aboard the USS Carl Vinson aircraft carrier in San Diego.