The Philippines’ defense minister on Tuesday walked back some recent claims by that country’s president regarding US military relations, saying exercises would just be scaled back instead of completely canceled. Defense Minister Delfin Lorenzana said joint military options will become less combat-focused, and the signed Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement would stay in place, Reuters reported. The Philippine government said the total number of exercises would fall from more than a dozen to six or seven. Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has made several statements about ending military cooperation with the US, including that the US could “forget” any cooperation and declaring a separation with the American military. Pacific Air Forces Commander Gen. Terrence O’Shaughnessy, in an e-mail to Air Force Magazine, said the most recent deployment of an US Air Force air contingent of C-130s to the Philippines has concluded. “Like anyone, I’m troubled by the recent rhetoric as it does not reflect the breadth and depth of the 70-year partnership the US has shared with the Philippines,” O’Shaughnessy said. “Fortunately, our overall military-to-military relations with the Philippines remains robust and multifaceted.”
The Air Force will begin its 71st annual Operation Christmas Drop on Dec. 4. The weeklong exercise is a yearly tradition that delivers supplies such as food, fishing equipment, school books, and clothes to remote islands in the Pacific. It is the longest-running Department of Defense humanitarian mission.