President Rodrigo Duterte on Wednesday said he wants an end to the Philippines' joint military exercises with the United States, saying the upcoming scheduled war games will be the last under his term.
Duterte made the announcement in a speech before the Filipino community in Vietnam.
"You are scheduled to hold war games again, which China does not want. I will serve notice to you now that this will be the last military exercise. Jointly, Philippines, the US, the last one," Duterte said, while adding he will continue to uphold the Philippines' treaties with the US.
An amphibious landing exercise will be held on October 4 to 12 on multiple locations in Luzon and Palawan and will involve some 1,400 US troops and 500 Filipino soldiers. Military leaders from the two countries have also started preparing for a new set of exercises next year.
Duterte said he is only allowing the upcoming exercise to continue to allow Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana to fulfill commitments.
"Ayoko lang mapahiya si Defense Sec," said Duterte.
The Philippines and the US last conducted joint exercises in April, before Duterte took office. The move infuriated Beijing, with Chinese state media warning against "outsiders" interfering in the South China Sea issue.
China and the Philippines are embroiled in a maritime row, with Manila securing a tribunal decision invalidating much of Beijing's historical claims last July. But Duterte has sought closer ties with China, in stark contrast to his predecessor Benigno Aquino III.
The Philippines and the US are treaty allies, having signed a mutual defense treaty in 1951 and a visiting forces agreement in 1998. The US is also the Philippines' biggest foreign investor and the country's second biggest export market next to Japan.
But the relationship has been frayed under Duterte, who has bristled at criticism about the rising death toll of his administration's drug war from the US and other institutions such as the United Nations and the European Union.
On Monday, he said that he is about to "cross the Rubicon" in his relationship with the US.
Prior to that, Duterte expressed his desire to rid Mindanao of American troops supposedly to pursue peace talks.
He also declared earlier this month that he wanted to stop joint patrols with the US in the South China Sea amid the maritime dispute with China, which he again reiterated in his Hanoi address.
"There will never be an occasion that I will send a gray ship there. Not because I am afraid. Not because takot ako," said Duterte.
Washington and Manila agreed on joint patrols in the South China Sea before Duterte's election win this year, and a Pentagon spokesman said earlier this month three had been conducted from March until July.
Richard Jacobson, an American security expert, said Duterte's posturing could embolden China, which is expected to exploit what it perceives as a crack in the US-Philippines relationship.
"One could say that the U.S.-Philippines relationship might become strained and even shaken," Jacobson told Reuters, but he doubts if it will be broken.
"The U.S. geopolitical stakes in the region are much too high to react to his hyperbole. The current attitude in Washington is mature - more of patience than feeling provoked." —report from Tina Panganiban-Perez/JST, GMA News with Reuters