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PH-US joint sea patrols on hold

Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said yesterday that the US military has been told that plans for joint patrols and naval exercises in the disputed South China Sea have been put on hold in compliance with President Duterte’s desires.

Lorenzana also said that 107 US troops involved in operating surveillance drones against Muslim militants would be asked to leave Mindanao when the Philippines acquires those intelligence-gathering capabilities in the near future.

Additionally, Duterte wants to halt the 28 Philippine military exercises carried out with US forces each year, Lorenzana said. Duterte has said he wants an ongoing US-Philippine combat exercise to be the last in his six-year presidency as he backs away from what he views as too much dependence on the US.

Duterte, who took office in June, has an uneasy relationship with the US, a longtime treaty ally. In speeches in recent weeks, Duterte has expressed his desire to scale back the presence of visiting US troops in the country, along with 28 annual Philippine military exercises with American forces.

But while some Filipino officials have walked back on Duterte’s anti-US pronouncements – early this week he told President Barack Obama “to go to hell” – Lorenzana’s statements show that for the first time the Duterte administration has taken concrete steps to roll back cooperation with the US military in the Philippines. (AP)