• President said American forces must leave Mindanao for their own sake
  • He said their presence will just increase tensions, make them targets of Abu Sayyaf
  • He also said he wanted to raise the issue during the ASEAN summit but refrained

MANILA, Philippines – They have to go.

Indicating yet another shift in the country’s foreign relations with the United States, an adamant President Rodrigo Duterte said he wants US special forces to leave Mindanao for their own safety and avoid increasing tensions in strife-torn areas.

“Kaya ‘yang mga special forces [Those special forces], they have to go. They have to go. In Mindanao, maraming mga puti doon [there are lots of white people there],” Rappler quoted him as saying.

Duterte, who made his announcement in front of his new appointees at the Palace, said he had wanted to raise the issue during the recently-concluded ASEAN summit but did not do so to avoid any further misunderstandings with the US.

“I just couldn’t say so out of respect or I do not want a rift with America but they have to go,” he said.

The president added that the Americans are at risk of being victimized by the Abu Sayyaf or other Islamic terrorists operating in Mindanao.

“Mas lalong iinit. Pag makakita ng Amerikano, papatayin talaga ‘yan. Kukuha ng ransom, papatayin. Even if you’re black or white American, basta Amerikano,” he said.

 [It will get more tense. If they see an American, they will really be killed. They will demand ransom, they will kill them. Even if you’re black or white, as long as you’re American.]

The US currently maintains a small contingent of soldiers who serve in an advisory capacity among  Philippine troops in their counter-insurgency operations in Mindanao.