A U.S. Marine Corps amphibious assault vehicle rolls ashore during a joint U.S.-Filipino training operation. The Philippines announced a halt to the exercises Friday. File photo by Cpl. Matthew Bragg/U.S. Marine Corps
MANILA, Oct. 7 (UPI) -- The Philippines announced Friday it has suspended joint naval patrols with the United States in the South China Sea, as it moves away from its alliance with the United States, and toward China.
When asked if the United States had been informed of the policy change, Lorenzana said, "They know it already. There is no [current joint] patrol in the South China Sea."
President Rodrigo Duterte has said he seeks an end to the joint patrols to avoid antagonizing China, which has claimed sovereignty over much of the South China Sea.
Philippine Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said he informed the U.S. military that Duterte also wants to halt annual military drills with U.S. forces. This year's drills began on Tuesday, and will continue through Oct. 12.
Lorenzana added that he will ask a small detachment of U.S. soldiers to leave the Philippines, but only after the Philippines can carry out the missions on its own.
Duterte said in September that he wants the U.S.-Philippines exercises in the contested waters to be the final one, speaking of an overreliance on American support and his attempt to develop relationships with other countries, China and Russia in particular. He has often delivered profanity-laced broadsides at world leaders, including President Barack Obama, saying earlier this week that Obama can "go to hell."
Lorenzana has said weapons will be purchased from Russia and China in the future.
Washington and Manila had increased defense ties in recent years to counterbalance China's rising influence and territorial aggression in the South China Sea, where it has laid claim to several islands that are claimed by other countries, including the Philippines and Indonesia. A 2014 defense pact between the United States and the Philippines seemed to strengthen their relationship, but Duterte's June election and his demands for policy changes now leaves those plans undefined.