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Philippines' Duterte after aid dispute: "Bye-bye America"

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte gestures while delivering a speech during the 80th National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) founding anniversary at the NBI headquarters in metro Manila, Philippines, Nov. 14, 2016.

REUTERS

MANILA, Philippines -- President Rodrigo Duterte on Saturday threatened to terminate a pact that allows U.S. troops to visit the Philippines, saying “bye-bye America” as he reacted with rage to what he thought was a U.S. decision to scrap a major aid package over human rights concerns.

A U.S. government aid agency, the Millennium Challenge Corporation, said this week that its board deferred a vote on a renewal of the development assistance package for the Philippines “subject to a further review of concerns around rule of law and civil liberties.”

The U.S. agency has clearly not voted to scrap or approve the aid package, but Duterte unleashed a barrage of expletives-laden tirade upon his arrival in his southern hometown in Davao 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 tauntingly: “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 walked 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 a huge financial assistance. “So, what do I need America for?” he asked. He also said Russia can be a very important ally, adding: “They do not insult people, they do not interfere.”

Philippine Foreign Secretary Perfecto Yasay Jr. also criticized the U.S. aid decision, saying it happened after Duterte declared he would chart a foreign policy independent of Washington.

The Philippines had been slated for another aid package after its previous five-year, $434 million poverty reduction program was successfully completed in May under Duterte’s predecessor, Benigno Aquino III.

The agency’s spokeswoman Laura Allen said Thursday it will continue to monitor events in the Philippines before the next board review in March 2017.

The U.S. decision is among the first signs of how concerns about the rule of law and human rights under Duterte could entail economic costs.

The U.S. government, along with European Union and U.N. 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 gunbattles with police. More than 3,000 other deaths are being investigated to determine if they were linked to illegal drugs.

Duterte, who has had a difficult relationship with President Barack Obama, said he would change his mindset if President-elect Donald Trump appeals to him. “I have talked to Trump, he was very nice, very courteous. I could not sense any hostile drift, or even the manner he was saying it, so, in deference, I’ll just wait.”

“I will let Obama fade away and if he disappears, then I will begin to reassess,” Duterte said, adding that he and Mr. Trump acknowledged each others’ similarly brash manners.

“We talk in the same language,” Duterte said. He recalled that when he told Trump in a recent phone call that “I like your mouth, it’s like mine,” he said Mr. Trump responded by saying “Yes, Mr. president, we’re similar.”

“And you know, people with the same feather flock together,” Duterte said.

Meanwhile, the BBC reports that Duterte confirmed to them that he shot and killed three people while the mayor of Davao. 

Duterte said in a speech to business executives at the presidential palace Monday that he used to hunt down criminals himself to set an example.

“In Davao, I used to do it personally. Just to show to the guys that, if I can do it why can’t you?” he said. “I go around in Davao with a motorcycle, with a big bike around and I would just patrol the streets and looking for trouble also. I was really looking for an encounter to be able to kill.” 

The Philippine justice secretary said Wednesday that Duterte often exaggerates killings of criminals he supposedly carried out to send a chilling warning to lawbreakers.

Vitaliano Aguirre II told reporters that Duterte may have been resorting to hyperbole when he suggested in a recent speech that he used to go around his southern Davao city as mayor on a big motorcycle to look for criminals to kill so policemen would emulate him.

“The president always resorts to hyperbole, he always exaggerates just to put his message across,” Aguirre told reporters.