REPORTED BY KALAHAN DENG
President Rodrigo Duterte on Saturday threatened to terminate a pact that allows US troops to visit the Philippines, saying “bye-bye America” as he reacted with rage to what he thought was a decision by Washington to scrap a major aid package over his human rights record.
The Millennium Challenge Corporation, a US government aid agency, said this week that its board deferred a vote on a renewal of the development assistance package for the Philippines “subject to a further review of concerns around rule of law and civil liberties”.
The agency has clearly not voted to scrap or approve the aid package, but Mr Duterte unleashed an expletives-laden tirade upon his arrival in his southern hometown in Davao after back-to-back visits to Cambodia and Singapore.
“I understand that we have been stricken out of the Millennium Challenge. Well, good, I welcome it,” Mr Duterte said with apparent sarcasm. “We can survive without American money,”
“But you know, America, you might also be put to notice. Prepare to leave the Philippines, prepare for the eventual repeal or the abrogation of the Visiting Forces Agreement,” he said, referring to a 1998 accord that governs American forces visiting the Philippines for joint combat exercises.
“You know, tit for tat … if you can do this, so (can) we. It ain’t a one-way traffic,” he said, adding tauntingly: “Bye-bye America.”
The 71-year-old president, who describes himself as a left-wing politician, has made similar threats before and after taking office in June, but he and his officials have walked back on many of his public statements, causing confusion.
While calling Americans “sons of bitches” and “hypocrites,”Mr Duterte praised China as having “the kindest soul of all” for offering what he said was a huge financial assistance.
“So, what do I need America for?” he asked. He also said Russia can be a very important ally, adding: “They do not insult people, they do not interfere.”
Perfecto Yasay Jr., the Philippine foreign Secretary, also criticized the US aid decision, saying it happened after Mr Duterte declared he would chart a foreign policy independent of Washington.
The Philippines had been slated for another aid package after its previous five-year, $434 million poverty reduction program was successfully completed in May under Mr Duterte’s predecessor, Benigno Aquino III.
The agency’s spokeswoman Laura Allen said Thursday it will continue to monitor events in the Philippines before the next board review in March 2017.
The US decision is among the first signs of how concerns about the rule of law and human rights under Mr Duterte could entail economic costs.
The US government, along with European Union and UN officials, has raised concerns about Mr Duterte’s crackdown on illegal drugs, which has left more than 2,000 suspected drug users and dealers dead in purported gun battles with police. More than 3,000 other deaths are being investigated to determine if they were linked to illegal drugs.
Mr Duterte, who has had a difficult relationship with President Barack Obama, said he would change his mindset if President-elect Donald Trump appeals to him. “I have talked to Trump, he was very nice, very courteous. I could not sense any hostile drift, or even the manner he was saying it, so, in deference, I’ll just wait.”
“I will let Obama fade away and if he disappears, then I will begin to reassess,” Mr Duterte said, adding that he and Trump acknowledged each others’ similarly brash manners.
“We talk in the same language,” Mr Duterte said. He recalled that when he told Trump in a recent phone call that “I like your mouth, it’s like mine,” he said Trump responded by saying “Yes, Mr. president, we’re similar.”
“And you know, people with the same feather flock together,” Mr Duterte said.