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Duterte reverses, says joint U.S.-Philippines military drills can continue

By Ed Adamczyk
Duterte reverses, says joint U.S.-Philippines military drills can continue
Philippines Defense Secretary Delfin Loerenzana said President Rodrigo Duterte was persuaded to continue joint military drills with the United States, reversing his recent position regarding foreign troops on Philippine territory. Photo courtesy of the Phillipenes Department of Defense

MANILA, Nov. 9 (UPI) -- In a reversal, Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte approved plans to continue joint military drills with the United States, his defense secretary said.

Duterte had said there would be no more drills involving the Armed Forces of the Philippines and the United States, or any foreign force, saying a foreign military's presence on Philippine territory violated the country's sovereignty. He was persuaded to change his position after hearing from security officials, including his defense secretary, Delfin Lorenzana.

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"The president has approved practically all our recommendations," Lorenzana said after a cabinet meeting Monday. He added that certain assault exercises and drills would be cancelled but bilateral actions including training in humanitarian and disaster response, counter-terrorism and counter-narcotics and transnational crimes would continue.

Lorenzana also confirmed that Duterte remains a proponent of the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement of 2014, between the Philippines and the United States, which is an improvement of a mutual defense pact the two countries signed in 1951. Its most prominent feature allows the United States to make temporary use of Philippine military bases for operations, including disaster relief.

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Richard Gordon, a member of the Philippine Senate, earlier warned Duterte not to reject the EDCA, suggesting a shift in regional power could result.

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"I don't think it would be wise at the moment to cancel the EDCA with the United States," Gordon said, noting the move "could encourage China to make more serious maneuvers to attain their goal of gaining control over the disputed West Philippine Sea or South China Sea, as it would weaken the U.S. influence in Asia."

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