A top U.S. Army general says his forces “may have to make some adjustments” to upcoming joint exercises in the Philippines if the new government no longer wants to conduct military combat readiness exercises.
In an interview with VOA, Lt. General Stephen Lanza, the commander of the Army's I Corps who leads several international military exercises in the Pacific, said the U.S. military was prepared to change next year's joint exercises with the Philippines to humanitarian and disaster relief training.
“If we change the training,” Lanza said, “We would probably look at putting a different force and a different capability in the Philippines versus the initial one that had been planned to go there.”
Previous training between the longtime allies focused on enhancing the Philippines' territorial defense.
News of the potential change to 2017 exercises comes as new Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has criticized the Obama administration and taken steps to align more with China.
Duterte announced in October that he wants U.S. troops out of the Philippines, “maybe in the next two years."
On Thursday, Philippine Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said it is “unlikely” the Philippines will allow the U.S. military to use Philippine bases to launch freedom-of-navigation patrols in the South China Sea.
Despite recent developments, U.S. military officials say the relationship between the two countries remains strong.
"We have seen a continued need and continued desire to train with U.S. forces, specifically the Army, by the Philippine military," Lanza told VOA.
He said both countries have seen “payoffs” from previous training exercises in terms of enhancing military readiness and military-to-military relationships.
"I think that everything we do in the Philippines and everything that we do in the Pacific, whether it be regionally or globally, matters," Lanza said, "and some of the feedback that we've gotten from the Philippine military is that operations like that have been helpful to them in moving their military forward."