His comments, which have also included personally insulting US President Barack Obama, have put a strain on the relationship between the US and Philippine militaries, which have a 60-odd year long relationship. That pressure is particularly acute as the Pentagon’s strategy for the pacific relies heavily on the Philippines, including development at five military bases in the country.
Speaking Thursday ahead of today’s meeting of the ASEAN defense ministers, Carter called the relationship between the two nations "ironclad" and spoke of how military ties will only grow in the future, despite a recent statement from Duterte that he wanted to end all bi-lateral military exercises with the US.
But alerted to Duterte’s comment Friday, Carter said he found them "deeply troubling" and said that particular matter did not come up in conversations with Philippine Minister of Defense Delfin Lorenzana.
A senior defense official, speaking on background Thursday before the ASEAN meeting, said the Pentagon was seeking to "clarify" Duterte’s comments when Carter met with Lorenzana here.
"I expect we’ll get through this," the official added.
A State Department spokesman said Friday that the comments were "troubling," but indicated that the relationship between the two nations would continue on the strength of their shared past.
"This is not a zero sum game for us. We're not trying to dictate with whom the Philippines should have strong relations with," Mark Toner, State Department deputy spokesman, said at a press briefing. "Our only concern is that we want to maintain our strong relationship with the Philippines but again, I'll stress that it has to be one that's based on shared values, Democratic values, respect for human rights and words matter, I'll say it again."
Speaking at the UN Sept. 24, Perfecto Yasay, f
ecretary of the Philippines, seemed to acknowledge that Duterte’s previous comments are impacting how the world views his nation.
"Our actions, however, have grabbed both the national headlines and international attention for all the wrong reasons," Yasay said. "Consequently, we urge everyone to allow us to deal with our -- with our domestic challenges in order to achieve our national goals, without undue interference, and to be among the community of nations that can collectively make a universal push to transform the world and improve the quality of life for all of humanity, including the more than 100 million Filipinos.
"Have faith in the strong institutions of our democracy. Have faith in our people to defend the freedom and integrity of our country. Have faith in the power of our people as they continue to freely participate, be involved and have a say in the actions and decisions of their democratically-elected government," he added. "Let me repeat explicitly and unequivocally that the Philippines is committed to the rule of law and the protection of the rights of all Filipinos."
Aaron Mehta was deputy editor and senior Pentagon correspondent for Defense News, covering policy, strategy and acquisition at the highest levels of the Defense Department and its international partners.