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US, Philippines launch joint military exercise amid Duterte's upbeat remarks on Trump

Philippine and US troops have held joint training exercises, after President Duterte had pledged to scale back ties to Washington. Duterte has since said that he expects improved relations under Donald Trump.

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte hinted on Tuesday that he could warm to continued close relations with the United States when Donald Trump moves into the Oval Office. 

The often expletive-prone Duterte, who branded the outgoing US President Barack Obama a "son of a whore" for condemning his deadly anti-drugs crackdown, gave upbeat remarks about the President-elect, congratulating him on a "well-deserved victory."

His comments coincided with reports on Wednesday that Filipino and US troops were holding joint, albeit scaled-down, military exercises, despite the Philippine President vowing last month to reassess relations between the two countries. 

When asked by reporters whether Philippine relations with the US could improve under a Trump presidency, Duterte replied: "I'm sure, we have no quarrel. I can always be a friend to anybody, especially to a ... president, chief executive of another country."

Both men have been likened for their devil-may-care impertinence towards critics. Duterte added that he expected Trump to be fair when dealing with illegal immigrants. "I trust in his judgment," he said. Filipinos are among the largest expatriate groups in the US.

'Small bilateral activity'

Philippine and US troops held joint-training exercises on Wednesday, signaling a boost in relations between the two countries.

Brigadier-General Restituto Padilla, a military spokesman, said on Wednesday that 30 to 40 domestic troops and an unspecified number of US Special Forces were holding a month-long training exercise on the island of Palawan. "This is a very small bilateral activity," he said.

Earlier, Philippine Army spokesman Colonel Benjamin Hao told reporters that the joint-exercise intended to "test the basic war fighting skills of our soldiers (and) improve the relationship of both armed forces."

Commander of the US Pacific Command Harry Harris said that military cooperation between the two nations remained unchanged at present.

China Peking Staatsbesuch Duterte Philippinen (picture-alliance/dpa/Wu Hong)

Amid strained relations with the US, Duterte has shifted his focus towards courting Beijing.

Duterte had called for a withdrawal of US troops from the country and threatened to scrap a joint-defense pact with Washington intended to deter Chinese expansion in the South China Sea.

Amid frosty relations with Obama, Duterte has shifted his strategy and courted Beijing and Moscow for aid and investment.

Duterte also said on Tuesday that he looked forward to meeting Putin at this month's APEC summit in Peru, adding that, like Putin, he also has a love for guns and hunting. "I will not ask for anything. I want to be friends with him, I just want the two countries to be the best of friends," Duterte said.

The Philippine president faces international condemnation for his war on drugs, which has seen more than 4,000 people killed. Duterte only entered office four and a half months ago. Organizations including the United Nations and the European Union have voiced concerns about alleged extrajudicial killings and a breakdown in the Philippine's rule of law. 

dm/msh (AP, dpa)