MANILA – The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) has hailed the United States as the country’s “number one ally.”
Returning from his meeting with U.S. Pacific Command chief Admiral Harry Harris in Hawaii, AFP Chief General Eduardo Año also announced the return of regular war games between the two countries.
According to him, there will be an increase of 261 joint military engagement with the U.S. from this year’s 258. Training and exercises will include humanitarian assistance, disaster response, and counterterrorism, and will also cover territorial defense.
AFP made the statement on Thursday, October 5, just days after Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte’s earlier pronouncement that he wanted to be “friendlier” with the U.S.
“The president said: ‘I want to be friendlier to the U.S’. So we have a closer relationship and more exercises,” Año told reporters.
“He (Duterte) said to continue engagement with the United States. They are still our number one ally,” he added.
Duterte, who took office last year, has been criticizing Washington, particularly the administration of former U.S. President Barack Obama, for allegedly interfering with the domestic affairs of the Philippines.
The joint military exercises were scaled down this year as the Philippine government steered away from U.S. and toward China, under Manila’s so-called independent foreign policy.
Duterte initially ordered the scrapping of joint drills with the American troops. He later allowed the continuation of other military exercises but excluded territorial defense from its coverage.
In a recent speech, however, Duterte claimed that he’s now on friendlier terms with the U.S., saying that the latter has “redeemed themselves a lot.”
“There are so many factors involved but I’d rather be friendly to them now because aside from these episodes of, I said, sad incidents, overall I think the Americans also redeemed themselves a lot,” the president remarked on Thursday, September 28.
Amid call for warmer ties with Washington, Año said that Manila will still pursue a closer relationship with Beijing.
“The U.S. is not our enemy. China is not our enemy. Our utmost priority is the interest of the country,” the military chief said.