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Friends Again? Philippines Announces Joint Drills With US Despite Strain

© AP Photo / Bullit MarquezPhilippine Marines cheer as a U.S. Navy AAV (Amphibious Assault Vehicle) storms the beach during a combined assault exercise near the contested reef in the South China Sea.
Philippine Marines cheer as a U.S. Navy AAV (Amphibious Assault Vehicle) storms the beach during a combined assault exercise near the contested reef in the South China Sea. - Sputnik International
Despite a recent cooling of relations between the United States and the Philippines after a harsh verbal exchange, portions of the two countries’ militaries will take part in joint war games in October, according to the Philippine Marine Corps.

Capt. Ryan F. Lacuesta, Philippine Marine Corps public affairs director, announced on Thursday that Manila and Washington will hold the annual amphibious landing exercise PHIBLEX 33, beginning next week.

"The annual exercise will be held on October 4-12 with the opening ceremony set to be held at the Philippine Marine Corps headquarters, Fort Bonifacio, Taguig City," Lacuesta said.

In this Friday, Sept. 16, 2016 photo released by Xinhua News Agency, Chinese Navy frigate Huangshan, left, and Russian Navy antisubmarine ship Admiral Tributs take part in a joint naval drill at sea off south China's Guangdong Province. - Sputnik International
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PHIBLEX 33, aimed at improving interoperability and capabilities of the armed forces of both countries, will include events such as an amphibious landing exercise at the Naval Education Training Command in San Antonio, Zambales, a combined live fire exercise (CALFEX) at Crow Valley, Tarlac, and a turn-over ceremony for an engineering project in Santa Ana, Cagayan. An October 12 closing ceremony will take place in Manila.

The announcement comes as the relations between the allies have become strained in recent weeks.

In early September, US President Barack Obama canceled his meeting with Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, on the sidelines of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) forum, as the latter had publicly called the US leader a “son of a whore.” Obama had criticized Duterte’s ongoing war on drugs, and its use of unregulated public militias.

Duterte then called on US Special Forces to withdraw from the Philippines’ southern island of Mindanao, where they have been deployed since 2002.

“The Special Forces, they have to go,” the Philippine Star cited Duterte as saying on September 12. “I could not speak then out of respect and I do not want a rift with America. But they have to go.”

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte holds up a photo and cites accounts of US troops who killed Muslims during the US's occupation of the Philippines in the early-1900s, during a speech at the Malacanang palace in Manila on September 12, 2016 - Sputnik International
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Duterte later claimed that the Philippines would refrain from taking part in US-led patrols in the South China Sea, which he called a “hostile act” toward China. Washington began patrolling disputed areas alongside Manila earlier this year, before Duterte was elected as president in May. The move was aimed to counter Beijing, which has overlapping territorial disputes with the Philippines and other four nations in the maritime region.

China has laid claim to the entire territory of the South China Sea, an area crossed by important trade routes and reportedly rich in oil and gas deposits. In July, the Hague Court of Arbitration ruled that Beijing’s territorial claims in the sea are baseless, in a case Manila brought to the court in 2013.

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