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Duterte says Philippines can survive without US help

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has defended his recent decision to terminate a security pact between Filipino forces and the US military, saying his country can fight insurgents and survive as a nation without American military help.

Duterte also said in a speech on Wednesday that he would stand by a decision made early in his presidency that he will not travel to the United States, a decision he made after then President Barack Obama criticized his deadly anti-drug crackdown.

“Do we need America to survive as a nation?” Duterte asked. “Do we need … the might and power of the military of the United States to fight our rebellion here and the terrorists down south and control drugs?”

“The [Philippine] military and police said, `Sir, we can do it,’” he said.

“If we can’t do it, we have no business being a republic,” Duterte said. “You might as well choose. We can be a territory of the Americans or we can be a province of China.”

The assertive Philippine leader has often condemned America’s foreign and military policies while praising China and Russia since taking office in mid-2016 for a six-year term.

US President Donald Trump invited Duterte to join a summit he will host for leaders of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) next month in Las Vegas, Nevada.

Although Duterte has better relations with Trump than with Obama, his latest remarks support an earlier statement by his spokesman that he would not attend the ASEAN meeting in Las Vegas.

Duterte announced on February 11 that he would be terminating the Visiting Forces Agreement, a two-decade-old treaty that allows US forces to train in large numbers in the Philippines, the most serious threat under Duterte to the bilateral accord.

The accord also allows the entry and temporary stay of American forces along with US warships and aircraft for joint training with Filipino troops. The termination takes effect after 180 days unless both sides agree to keep the VFA, which came into force in 1999.

The VFA specifies which country has jurisdiction over US forces, a sensitive issue in the former American colony. US soldiers are accused of crimes while stationed in the Philippines.

Duterte threatened to terminate the agreement after Washington reportedly canceled the US visa of Philippines Senator Ronald dela Rosa, who is accused of human rights violations when he enforced the president’s bloody anti-drug campaign during his time as national police chief from 2016 until 2018.

Thousands of mostly poor suspects have been allegedly killed under Duterte’s campaign against illegal drugs. The country’s police denies the allegations, insisting the killings were in self-defense.

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