Duterte thumbs down plan to bring ?Balikatan? to Davao

Speaking at the regular meeting of the Regional Peace and Order Council (RPOC), which he chairs, Duterte said that "somebody from the top" conferred with him about the Balikatan war games two months ago.

The annual Balikatan (literally, “shoulder-to-shoulder”), opposed by militant groups, is the focus of the two countries' security alliance.

Duterte refused to identify who talked to him and if he was pressured by Malacañang about it when asked by reporters why he brought the issue up again. But Duterte stressed nobody can pressure him. “Basta ayoko” (I really won't allow it), he said.

"I do not want American soldiers in Davao City or in the region," said Duterte, self-declared critic of America's military presence in Mindanao. He clarified, though, that he has nothing against American citizens, many of whom are Davao residents.

Among those present in the RPOC meeting were officials from the Army, Navy and Air Force.

Duterte opined that the bombings in Southwestern Mindanao, including Cotabato City, were aimed at American presence in the area due to the joint military exercises.

He said he refused to subject his area to that situation.

"[Balikatan] will just heat up the region or the city when there is really no need for it here," Duterte said. "We will just deal with our own problems in our own way," he added.

He said it is true that the country is battling against terrorists and insurgents but military exercises with the Americans are unnecessary.

"I have full faith and confidence in the Armed Forces of the Philippines and the Philippine National Police and the other security forces of the republic," he said.

Duterte said, however, that if the Americans really wanted to help the Philippine military, let them do so in the technical department, admitting that the American military is way ahead.

In January, Duterte also hit the holding of the Balikatan 2007 exercises pitched by the Americans as focusing on humanitarian efforts. If the US really wants to help in humanitarian work, they have to do it year round with or without terrorism, Duterte stressed.

Last year, the mayor told reporters that he rejected an offer for him to become the next defense chief, citing his hesitation to work with Americans, among many other reasons.

According to globalsecurity.org, the Balikatan series is an annual event aimed at improving RP-US combined planning, combat readiness, and interoperability while enhancing security relations and demonstrating US resolve to support the Philippines against external aggression.

The Philippines has signed a Mutual Defense Treaty with the Americans. The first Balikatan exercise was conducted in 1991, the year the US pulled out its troops from military bases in Luzon.

In 1995, the Philippines ended Balikatan because of a dispute over the Visiting Forces Agreement. The agreement gave the US jurisdiction over crimes committed by military personnel while on duty in a foreign country. It was reinstated in May 1999 despite protests from the Catholic Church and other anti-US sectors.

The VFA, hit my militants as another way of surrendering Philippine sovereignty, provided for expanded military cooperation, which caused the resumption of the Balikatan.