Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte told his Cabinet on Monday that he wants US military forces out of the southern Philippines, but he has not relayed that message to the US government.
A US State Department spokesman said Washington has not received any such request. Department spokesman John Kirby said during a regular press briefing that he had seen reports of Duterte's demand, but "we are not aware of any official communication by the Philippine government ... to seek that result."
He added that Washington remains committed to its alliance with Manila.
But tensions between the long-time allies have been strained since Duterte came to power in June. He immediately announced a vigilante campaign to carry out extrajudicial killings against drug dealers and drug users.
Already, in just 10 weeks, nearly 3,000 people have been killed amid a chorus of domestic and international condemnation. Reports have claimed many of those killed were innocent.
Last week Duterte was to have a bilateral meeting with US President Barack Obama on the sidelines of a multilateral gathering in Asia. But apparently fearing that Obama would counsel him against using deadly tactics that contravene conventional human rights standards, Duterte lashed out at the US president, calling him a "son of a whore."
The White House subsequently canceled the planned meeting in Laos. But in a new twist, Duterte now says he is the one who canceled the meeting.
Battling Muslim extremists
US special-forces have been advising local troops in the southern Philippines who are battling Muslim extremists. Duterte wants the troops out, saying the West is at the root of the persistent Muslim insurgency.
The Philippines was a US colony from 1898 to 1946, except for a period of Japanese occupation during World War II.
In opposing the US military presence in the southern region of Mindanao, Duterte cited the killing of Muslims during a US pacification campaign a century ago, which he said was the cause of a Muslim insurgency in the largely Catholic nation's south.
"For as long as we stay with America, we will never have peace in that land," Duterte said in a speech to newly appointed government officials.
He showed photos of what he described as Muslim Filipinos, including children and women, who were slain by US forces in the early 1900s and dumped in a pit while US soldiers stood around the mass grave.
"The special forces, they have to go. They have to go in Mindanao, there are many whites there, they have to go," he said, adding that he was reorienting the country's foreign policy.
bik/gsw (AP, Reuters, AFP)