From InterAksyon (Dec 31): PH may move naval drills with US away from South China Sea - Lorenzana
Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, accompanied by Transportation Secretary Arthur Tugade (R) and Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana, claps at the end of Japan's coast guard drills in Yokohama in a recent trip to Japan. REUTERS FILE
President Rodrigo Duterte has asked Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana to move joint naval exercises with the United States away from the disputed South China Sea as he tries to repair Manila's ties with China.
The Philippines has already decided to reduce the number of drills it holds with its long-term ally and former colonial master after Duterte announced a sudden pivot towards China.
Lorenzana told reporters at a military ceremony on Friday that Duterte had advised him to seek a new location for the war games.
"We might move the naval exercises facing the South China Sea to Mindanao area to avoid annoying our neighbor, so let us be sensitive of our neighbors," he said.
Duterte visited Beijing in October and announced that he was loosening ties with Washington, which has provided nearly $800 million in military aid since 2002.
Chinese-Filipino relations were strained in 2013 when Manila asked an international tribunal in The Hague to rule on China's claim to large parts of the South China Sea, where Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam also have claims.
The Permanent Court of Arbitration ruled against China but Beijing, which has been building and fortifying artificial islands in the area, refused to recognize the decision.
Duterte reiterated on Thursday that he wanted to avoid confrontation with China and saw no urgency in pressing it to abide by the ruling.
He also played down concerns that China was militarizing the South China Sea and appeared unperturbed by its dredging work and building activity, much of which falls within what Manila considers its Exclusive Economic Zone.