Earth & Conservation

Will The Philippines 'Break Up' With The U.S.?

Philippine President Duterte has made some fiery speeches against the U.S. So what is going to happen to the U.S.-Philippines relationship?

For 65 years, following the signing and later reaffirmation U.S.-Philippines Mutual Defense Treaty, the United States and the Philippines have been allies. But over the course of the past year, following the election of Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, the relationship has turned frosty.

Duterte, a popular politician in the Philippines known for his blunt talk and violent war on drug criminals, announced that he would "break up with America," instead seeking closer ties with other major world powers, namely Russia and China, a regional rival.

How did the alliance between two close allies seemingly start to come apart? Today's Seeker Daily video has the answer.

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The Philippines gained full independence in 1946 at the conclusion of World War II. American and Filipino soldiers found together to defeat the Japanese in the Pacific Theater, and that experience helped establish the basis of modern military and economic cooperation.

The mutual defense treaty signed between the United States and the Philippines was drafted to "strengthen the fabric of peace" in the Pacific. For decades, the United States maintained a number of permanent military bases in the Philippines.

In the early 1990s, at a time when the political climate in the Philippines favored sovereignty interests, the American military was forced to pack up its ships, supplies, ammunition and aircraft after the Bush administration failed to convince the Philippine government to renew leases on two massive military complexes based in the Philippines.

The threat of terrorism and an ongoing dispute with China over the Spratly Islands, parts of which are claimed by other regional powers as well, has led the Philippines and United States to engage in joint military exercises. In 2014 both countries signed a 10-year agreement to increase the U.S. military presence in the Pacific island nation.

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The Duterte presidency now threatens that history of cooperation. U.S. criticism of his regime for human rights abuses as a result of state-sanctioned and increasingly routine killing of suspected drug offenders has not gone over well with Duterte, who has repeatedly insulted President Barack Obama and threatened to look elsewhere for allies.

But among ordinary Filipinos, the United States remains popular. A 2015 Pew poll found that the Philippines is the most pro-American country on Earth, with a remarkable 92 percent of its population viewing the United States favorably.

Even if a single presidency can roll back the historic relationship between the United States and the Philippines, it seems it will take more than one man to fracture the longstanding political, economic and cultural ties that bind the two countries.

-- Talal Al-Khatib

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Learn More:

NPR: He Did It Again: Philippine President Keeps Insulting the U.S. (And Obama)

Council on Foreign Affairs: The U.S- Philippines Defense Alliance

BBC: Philippines' Duerte tells Obama to 'go to hell'

HistoryState.gov: The Philippine-American War, 1899-1902