President Rodrigo Duterte has decided to retain the Philippines’ security alliance with former colonial power the United States, according to the country’s defence minister, but joint military activities will be scaled back, and less combat-focused. […]Defence Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said the security alliance with the United States would not be scrapped, including a 2014 agreement that allows prolonged deployment of American forces in the country.“It will remain,” Lorenzana told reporters, referring to the strategic alliance with Washington. “No, it will not be abrogated. But we will reduce the number of activities.”
Lorenzana’s comments provide the most reliable information yet about the future of U.S.-Philippine military cooperation. According to the Defense Secretary, two annual exercises—the Navy’s CARAT exercises, and the Marines’ Phiblex exercises—will be cancelled outright. War games will be retooled to focus on humanitarian relief, disaster response, and civic action, while small-unit exercises and special operations to combat terrorism and drugs will continue. In total, the Philippines plans six or seven military drills with the United States next year.Most crucial for the United States is the retention of the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA), which grants the U.S. military rotational access to Filipino bases. That bilateral agreement was a critical military component of Obama’s pivot to Asia, which has been criticized for lacking teeth. The Pentagon has previously downplayed Duterte’s threats to get rid of the pact, and John Kerry has reiterated his confidence in the state of the relationship.With the surprise election of Donald Trump, however, nothing is certain. For the meantime, the relationship has been downgraded, and Manila appears to be playing Washington and Beijing off each other: making public overtures to China and promising “separation” from the United States, while holding on to beneficial elements of U.S. economic and security cooperation. But however the situation in Asia develops, it will be on starkly different terms than Obama’s pivot to Asia, which increasingly looks dead in the water.