President Duterte has ordered the transfer of the joint Philippines-US amphibian exercises from the West Philippine Sea to somewhere in the Mindanao Sea in a bid to avoid offending China, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said yesterday.
He said the Philippine Amphibious Landing Exercise (Phiblex) and the Cooperation Afloat Readiness and Training (CARAT) courses are now under review, adding that the Balikatan exercises between the Philippines and the US would not be stopped despite Duterte’s pronouncement that he is separating from the US.
“The (Visiting Forces Agreement) will continue, except for the need to reformat two major ones. The Balikatan exercises at Fort Magsaysay will continue but the ones conducted in the oceans fronting the South China Sea will have to be transferred somewhere, we will move them in the Mindanao seas,” Lorenzana said in a chance interview after the Rizal Day rites at Rizal Park in Manila yesterday.
The move is meant to “not offend our neighbors,” the defense chief said, without directly identifying Beijing.
“So, let’s be also sensitive of our neighbors,” he added.
Following Duterte’s declaration of pursuing an independent foreign policy that veers away from the US, the defense chief said he had explained to the President the need to maintain defense ties between the Philippines and the US.
In an interview the other day on GMA News, Duterte said he needed to establish bilateral relations with China to boost the country’s economic relations with the world’s second largest economy.
“Even in fantasy, do you think we can win a war?” he asked, admitting that the Philippines has no capability to declare war.
“You know the reality of a war, and do not blame me if something happens here,” he said, pointing out how he plays diplomacy with China and the US when he set aside the decision of the arbitral court in favor of the Philippines on the rights over certain areas in the South China Sea.
Duterte said he is ready to go to war with China provided that the entire Seventh Fleet of the US will be in place to ensure a victory. Without it, Duterte said there is no way that the Philippines alone can win against China. – Christina Mendez