Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte said on Monday that the US Special Forces has to go out of Mindanao, because their presence could rouse trouble in the region.
“Those US special forces, they have to go. They have to go. In Mindanao, there are many white people there,” the President said in Malacañang while taking the oath of new government officials.
In 2002, the Philippines and the US formed a Joint Special Operations Task Forces, to train Filipino troops in fighting terrorists in Mindanao.
The Armed Forces’ Western Mindanao Command is based in Zamboanga City and the task force was based in Camp Navarro in the same city.
The program has officially ended in early 2015 but despite the termination of the US mission, some US troops stayed in the country to assist in the counter-terrorism programs in the South.
The Philippines and the US also signed the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement under which the US can rotate troops in the Philippines for extended stays. The Visiting Forces Agreement signed by the two countries allow the holding of the annual Balikatan military exercises by Filipino and American troops.
The President said the United States’ violent pacification program in Mindanao continues to stir unrest, adding to the tension in the region.
“Look at the bodies there, how will things hold-up? For as long as we stay with America, we will never have peace in that land. We might as well give it up,” Duterte said.
The President said he has wanted to review the foreign policy for sometimes.
“I do not want a rift with America. But they have to go,” he stated.
Duterte said American soldiers are prime targets for the terrorist group Abu Sayyaf.
“The situation in Mindanao will get more intense. If Americans are seen there, they will really be killed,” he warned.
“They will be hostages for ransom. They will be killed. Even if you’re a black or a white American,” he added.
About 1,200 Americans were in Zamboanga City and on Jolo and Basilan islands, both strongholds of Abu Sayyaf, known for its brutality and for earning huge sums of money from hostage-taking.
Presidential spokesman Ernesto Abella said Duterte’s statement shows his government’s new policy towards coursing an independent foreign policy.
In a statement Abella said, “He has made reference to the unrecognized, unrepented and unatoned massacre at Bud Dajo in Sulu by the Americans, hence our continued connection with the West is the real reason for the ‘Islamic’ threat in Mindanao.”
The Presidential official said the American silence on the matter ‘is not consistence with its moral position.’
“Mr. Duterte is on morally firm ground by breaking up walls that cover dark corners in US-RP relations,” Abella said.
At the East Asia Summit in the Laotian capital Thursday (8 September) Duterte shocked Asian leaders when he lashed the US for the killings in the Philippines when it was an American colony from 1898 to 1946. (Read here)