Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte said Monday he wants US forces out of his country's south and blamed America for inflaming Muslim insurgencies in the region, in his first public statement opposing the presence of American troops, the AP reports. Washington, however, said it had not received a formal request to remove US military personnel. White House spokesman Josh Earnest said Duterte had a tendency to make "colorful comments" and drew a comparison with Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump. Duterte did not mention any deadline or say how he intends to pursue his wishes. State Department spokesman John Kirby said Monday that the US was aware of Duterte's comments, but is "not aware of any official communication by the Philippine government to that effect and to seek that result." He said the US remained committed to its long-standing alliance with the Philippines.
In opposing the US military presence in the southern Mindanao region, Duterte cited the killing of Muslims during a US pacification campaign in the early 1900s, which he said was at the root of the long restiveness of minority Muslims in the largely Catholic nation's south. "For as long as we stay with America, we will never have peace in that land," Duterte said in a speech to newly appointed government officials. He showed photos of what he described as Muslim Filipinos, including children and women, who were slain by U.S. forces in the early 1900s and dumped in a pit in Bud Daho, a mountainous region in southern Sulu province. American soldiers stood around the mass grave. "The special forces, they have to go. They have to go in Mindanao, there are many whites there, they have to go," he said, adding that he was reorienting the country's foreign policy. "I do not want a rift with America, but they have to go." Last week, Obama called off what would have been his first meeting with Duterte after an apparent insult.