U.S. President Donald J. Trump completed the last leg of his five- nation tour of Asia on Tuesday, 14 November, in the Philippines. During a press conference before boarding his flight back to Washington, Trump declared his visit “tremendously successful” and called the Philippines as an important ally particularly for military operations.
“It is a strategic location; the most strategic location. And if you look at it, it’s called the most prime piece of real estate from a military standpoint.”
The Philippines was a former colony of the United States. Both countries are bound by the 1951 Mutual Defense Treaty which allows the United States to deploy U.D. troops across five military facilities in the Philippines.
However when Rodrigo Duterte was elected President of the Philippines in 2016, he vowed to rid the country of foreign military presence even if existing agreements were revised.
The relationship between the Washington and Manila also soured with former U.S. President Barack Obama the target of Duterte’s scorn. Duterte had called Obama a “Son of a whore” and repeatedly cursed America for interfering with the affairs of his country.
Duterte also seemed to pivot the Philippines away from the U.S. and toward China and Russia. During the first few months of his presidency, Duterte discussed the possibility of bringing communist leaders into his Cabinet. He won the presidency by garnering 16 Million votes.
In 2016, the Philippines won 4-year old battle with China over disputed islands on the Western Philippine Sea. Former President Benigno Aquino and Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario filed a case with the United Nations tribunal in 2012 and was awarded exclusive rights over the disputed islands overruling China’s historical claim.
But Duterte chose to set aside the UN ruling effectively saying the Philippines was helpless against China.
Since becoming President, Duterte has moved toward closer relations with China. In 2016, he secured US$24 Billion in loans from China the terms and conditions which were not disclosed to Philippine Congress. China continues to build military structures on the disputed islands.
In more recent developments, Duterte instructed the military to cease the construction of a sandbar near the islands when the government received a complaint from China.
The islands in the Western Philippine Sea are of great interest to the U.S. in view of the tense situation with North Korea. When Trump embarked on his Asian trip, it was hoped that he would address China’s ongoing military build-up with Duterte.
A White House official would only go as far to say these matters including those involving human rights were briefly discussed in a private meeting with the Philippine President.