Philippines' Duterte warns US of 'tit-for-tat' response

By AFP   December 17, 2016 | 07:28 pm GMT+7

'Bye bye America,' said Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte.

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte threatened Saturday to end a military pact with the United States in a "tit-for-tat" response to American aid being deferred because of concerns about his deadly crime war.

Duterte reacted angrily to the announcement by the U.S. government this week that a decision on a multi-year aid package potentially worth hundreds of millions of dollars had been put off.

"Bye bye America," Duterte said, after threatening to end a 1998 Visiting Forces Agreement that gives the legal framework for US troops in the Philippines.

"Tit-for-tat. If you can do this, so do we, it ain't one-way traffic."

The American Millennium Challenge Corporation announced this week that a decision had been deferred over whether to continue giving aid, after an initial five-year package worth more than $430 million expired in May.

"This decision reflects the Board's significant concerns around rule of law and civil liberties in the Philippines," U.S. embassy spokeswoman Molly Koscina said on Thursday.

The U.S. government set up the Millennium Challenge Corporation to promote economic growth and reduce poverty around the world.

However countries can only qualify if they "demonstrate a commitment to just and democratic governance, investments in its people, and economic freedom", according to the corporation's website.

The United States has been a vocal critic of Duterte's war on drugs, which has claimed about 5,000 lives since he took office in late June, with President Barack Obama urging Duterte to prosecute it "the right way".

The criticism has severely strained ties between the longtime allies, with Duterte angered at what he insists is unfair interference in the Philippines' sovereign affairs.

Duterte has made repeated threats to downgrade or even end military and diplomatic ties, while moving to establish closer ties with U.S. rivals China and Russia.

Duterte has already curtailed many of the war games held between the two nations in the Philippines.

Duterte on Saturday said he was hoping for bilateral relations to improve when U.S. president-elect Donald Trump took office next year.

"I will just wait, I will let Obama fade away," Duterte said in a long press conference in his hometown of Davao that began shortly after midnight when he returned from a state visit to Singapore.

But Duterte, a socialist who has said he admires the leadership styles of Russia's Vladimir Putin and China's Xi Jinping, also signalled he would lead the Philippines away from the United States even with a friendly Trump as US president.

"I am not inclined to side with you (the United States) any more," he said.

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