Duterte to hold talks with US defense secretary

Amid his strained ties with the United States, President Duterte is expected to hold a meeting with US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin III on Thursday, July 29.

President Rodrigo Duterte (File photo/Malacañang)

Austin is expected to visit the country this week in line with 75th anniversary of the Philippine-United States relations. His trip to Manila will come after his visits to Vietnam and Singapore. The US official is seeking to bolster US defense relations with these Southeast Asian nations amid China's expansion in the South China Sea.

"President Rodrigo Roa Duterte is scheduled to receive United States Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III in a courtesy call in Malacañang on 29 July 2021," a Palace statement read.

"His visit to the Philippines highlights the 75th Anniversary of the Establishment of Diplomatic Relations between the Philippines and the United States and the 70th Anniversary of the PH-US Mutual Defense Treaty," it said.

The upcoming visit of the US defense chief comes amid the President Duterte's fraught relations with America over its past criticisms of his drug war, alleged inaction during the Panatag Shoal standoff in 2012, among others.

The President, in his State of the Nation Address Monday, July 26, expressed doubts that the United States would come to the country's aid in case it is under attack amid a territorial row with China.

"Now comes America, they say that if the attack is against the Philippines, they will defend. But they issued a statement that America does not meddle in conflicts involving the boundaries of other nations," he said.

"And if America has to go to war, you would have to go to Congress to get --- American Congress to get the authority to go to war," he added.

Under the mutual defense pact between the Philippines and the United States forged in 1951, a country will defend the other nation in case it would be under external armed attack.

Duterte, in the same public address, admitted he acted in bad faith when he asked the United States to return the Balangiga Bells to the Philippines in 2018 in exchange for his visit to Washington. He admitted that he no longer has intention of visiting the United States.

When he assumed office, the President forged closer ties with China and Russia and veered away from traditional ally the United States. Duterte later issued profanity-laced tirade against the United States for allegedly meddling in the country's affairs, even once announcing his "separation" from America. He later clarified he was not actually severing the country's ties with the United States.

Duterte also wanted to scrap the visiting forces agreement (VFA) over alleged unequal provisions and US meddling but agreed to defer the termination for a year amid global challenges such as the pandemic.

Last February, the President told the United States to pay if it wanted to retain the VFA, the 1998 agreement that governs the conduct of visiting American forces in the country.