President Rodrigo Duterte has cranked up his feud with the US by another notch by ordering all US special forces out of the southern Philippines. The Americans have been advising Filipino troops who are fighting Muslim extremists.
His decision is likely to further worsen ties with the US after he allegedly called President Barack Obama "a son of a whore" over claims that US leader was likely to bring up his war on illegal drugs in bilateral talks that were scheduled to be held on the sidelines of the Asean Summit held in Laos last week. Obama subsequently cancelled the bilateral meeting.
However, in a short encounter with Obama at the summit, the US leader was said to have advised Duterte to carry out his crime war "the right way" and to protect human rights. In his usual style, the Filipino president dismissed Obama's remarks as none of America's business.
Details on the expulsion of US troops are sketchy. It is not clear how many US personnel are on the ground in southern Philippines of Mindanao.
Duterte however was clear on one thing. He said that the Philippines' alignment with the Western world was at the root of the persistent Muslim insurgency.
"These US special forces, they have to go. They have to go in Mindanao. There are many whites there. The [Muslim] people will become more agitated. If they see an American, they will really kill him," Duterte told government employees on Monday 12 September.
He added: "They would demand ransom then kill him. Even if you're a black or white American as long as you are an American [they will kill you]."
Duterte said he did not raise the issue at the Asean Summit last week "out of respect and I do not want a rift with America. But they have to go," Philippine Star reported him as saying.
To back his decision, Duterte also showed photographs of the Bud Dajo massacre where Moro rebels and civilians were killed by US forces during the Filipino-American war in the early 1900s, the newspaper said.
Duterte calls the US a hypocrite
One photo showed US soldiers with dead Moros including naked women. About 1,000 Filipino Muslims were reported to have been killed in the conflict in Jolo in 1906, the newspaper reported.
Duterte did not stop there. "The US is a hypocrite. Look at the bodies there ... For as long as we stay with America, we will never have peace in that land [southern Philippines]. We might as well give it up."
Referring to the photograph, he said: "See the soldiers stepping on a woman's bare breast ... They even made a postcard out of it."
Duterte on firm moral ground says spokesman
While the US embassy in Manila did not comment immediately, Duterte's spokesman Ernesto Abella said: "The statement reflects [Duterte's] new direction towards coursing an independent foreign policy.
Abella said that Duterte was referring to the "unrecognised, unrepented and unatoned" massacre at Bud Dajo in Sulu by the Americans. "Hence our continued connection with the West is the real reason for the 'Islamic' threat in Mindanao."
He continued: "The American silence on the matter lacks congruence with its 'moral' position, in the light of actions taken in the past by the Germans who confessed and made atonement for the Holocaust, and Japan which made reparations for the atrocities it perpetrated among the peoples they conquered."
US military forces previously operated under the US Special Operation Task Force-Philippines with troops deployed on a rotation basis since 2002. This arrangement however was terminated after 10 years.
Subsequent deployments were made on the special invitation of the Philippines government to "assist and advise their Filipino counterpart to defeat the terrorism spawned by the Abu Sayyaf Group," the Philippines Star reported.
South China Morning Post said that previously 500-600 US personnel were rotated through the Mindanao region but two years ago, the then defence secretary Voltaire Gazmin was reported to have said that this would be cut back to 200.
Mindanao local officials unhappy
Meanwhile local officials in the region have expressed caution over Duterte's decision to kick out US troops from the region. Cesar Ituralde, the Acting Mayor said: "We have reservations on the pronouncement of the president as we all know the assistance provided by the US troops in ensuring the security and peace and order of the city."
He urged the president to reconsider the decision but said "we will highly respect the president as we are very much supportive of his plans and programmes in this matter."