The Philippine defense chief said Friday he told the US military that plans for joint patrols and naval exercises in the disputed South China Sea have been put on hold, the first concrete break in defense cooperation after months of increasingly strident comments by the country's new president.
Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana also said that 107 US troops involved in operating surveillance drones against Muslim militants would be asked to leave the southern part of the country once the Philippines acquires those intelligence-gathering capabilities in the near future.
According to Lorenzana, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, who in recent weeks has become increasingly outspoken and hostile against the US, also wants to halt the 28 military exercises that are carried out with US forces each year. Duterte has said he wants an ongoing US-Philippine amphibious beach landing exercise to be the last in his six-year presidency, as he backs away from what he views as too much dependence on the US. "This year would be the last," Duterte said of military exercises involving the Americans in a speech on Friday.