President Rodrigo Duterte 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 US decision to scrap an aid package over human rights concerns.
A US government aid agency, the Millennium Challenge Corporation, had said that its board was deferring a vote on renewing the development assistance package “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 Duterte unleashed an expletive-laden tirade upon his arrival in his home town of Davao, in the south of the country, 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,” Duterte said with apparent sarcasm.
“We can survive without American money,” he said.
“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,” Duterte said, adding “bye-bye America.”
The 71-year-old Duterte, 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 gone back on many of his public statements, causing confusion.
While calling Americans “sons of bitches” and “hypocrites,” Duterte praised China as having “the kindest soul of all” for offering what he said was significant financial assistance. “So, what do I need America for?” he asked.
He also said Russia can be a very important ally. “They do not insult people, they do not interfere,” he said.
The Philippines had been slated for another aid package after its previous five-year, $434 million (£347 million) poverty reduction programme was successfully completed in May under Duterte’s predecessor, Benigno Aquino III.
The agency’s spokeswoman, Laura Allen, said it would continue to monitor events in the Philippines before the next board review in March.
The US decision is among the first signs of how concerns about the rule of law and human rights under Duterte could entail economic costs.
The US government, along with European Union and UN officials, has raised concerns about 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 now being investigated to determine whether they were linked to illegal drugs.
In his news conference, Duterte was pointedly asked how many crime suspects he has killed in the past when he was still a crime-busting city mayor amid his vague and contradicting accounts of his exploits.
The former government prosecutor again gave contrasting replies.
“Maybe one, two, three ... I’m saying, maybe my bullets hit them, maybe not, but after the burumbumbumbum, they’re all dead,” Duterte said.