Philippines: Political “stabs” in favor of the US and China

Cross-accusations for treason. Threats to break up the country. Questions about the attitude of part of the army.

The political climate in the Philippines has become increasingly toxic of late, amid escalating geopolitical tensions in the Asia-Pacific region.

In Manila, the “protagonists” of the crisis are the current president, his predecessor and the latter’s daughter, who is currently the vice president of the Philippines.

Although they belong to rival political dynasties – both with bloody pasts – they formed an opportunistic alliance in the 2022 presidential election.

It led to the ceremonial election of Ferdinand Marcos Jr. – son of former dictator Marcos – to the presidency, with Sara Duterte as vice president. The politically over-ambitious daughter of the authoritarian former president Rodrigo Duterte.

Many attributed this odd collaboration to a political agreement of interests, for a perpetual reign of power and assured legal immunity.

But relations between the two camps are now at a tipping point.

In the background are the complete reversal of Rodrigo Duterte’s pro-China policy by President Marcos – who has become one of the US’s closest regional allies – as well as his controversial plans to change the Constitution.

He says it is necessary to pave the way for foreign investment in the Philippines, now one of Asia’s fastest growing economies.

The Dutertes – who aspire to see Sarah as president in 2028 – accuse him of wanting to extend his stay in power by changing the constitutional limit of a six-year term.

The 79-year-old Duterte now openly warns Marcos that he may suffer the same fate as his dictator father, who was overthrown by a popular uprising in 1986.

He also says he is ready to declare the southern Philippine island of Mindanao an independent state.

Balances of horror

Tensions in the Asia-Pacific region have been rising steadily for years, centered on the geopolitical rivalry between the US and China.

Washington is methodically forging its regional alliances in an attempt to isolate Beijing.

And the Asian giant is becoming increasingly aggressive towards Taiwan and its smaller neighbors in Southeast Asia, with whom it has significant territorial and maritime disputes in the South China Sea. One of them is the Philippines.

Although in 2016 Manila won an appeal it had unilaterally filed since 2013 at the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague against Chinese claims, the then new president of the Philippines, Rodrigo Duterte, chose to shelve it.

Instead, he reached a “gentlemen’s agreement” with Beijing to manage tensions in the region, with a “freeze” of the status quo.

President Marcos referred to it just a few days ago amid political tensions in Manila.

He described it as “secret”, which “could endanger sovereignty”. He claimed he did not know her until now, although Beijing denies this.

In a statement he issued, he pointed out that the new Philippine leadership had complied with this agreement for more than half a year before abandoning it. The time reference is not accidental.

In February 2023, the eighth month of the Marcos presidency, Manila announced that it was granting the US military access to an additional four military bases, beyond the five provided for under the 2014 bilateral Expanded Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA).

In effect, the US gained additional “territory” to deter Beijing in the South China Sea, near Taiwan – although the existing Philippine Constitution prohibits the operation of foreign bases on its territory. In return, Manila received security and investment commitments from the US and its partners.

On a tightrope

The timing of Ferdinand Marcos’ reference to Duterte’s “secret deal” with China was no accident. It came in the wake of the US-Japan-Philippines trilateral summit on April 11 at the White House. It was described as a “new chapter in tripartite cooperation”.

Together, the three leaders – US President Biden, his Filipino counterpart and Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida – denounced China for “dangerous and aggressive behavior”.

Underscoring Manila’s increasingly pivotal geopolitical role, Marcos Jr. will be a keynote speaker at this year’s Shangri-La Dialogue, Asia’s premier security conference, in late May in Singapore.

The pre-election Biden administration has pledged to send a US trade delegation to Manila this year, led by Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo.

In the meantime, tensions in the South China Sea are intensifying and the scene in Manila looks even more volatile. Balancing on a tightrope, Ferdinand Marcos the other day ruled out giving the US access to other military bases in the country, beyond the nine already agreed upon.

He also reiterated that he will not hand over his predecessor, Rodrigo Duterte, to the International Criminal Court (ICC), which is investigating crimes against humanity with the deadly drug-trafficking campaign under his presidency.

In a warning shot to Duterte, however, Marcos said he would allow an ICC team to go to the Philippines. It even artificially leaves open the prospect of the country’s reintegration into its bosom, six years after its withdrawal from the founding treaty of the international court.

Meanwhile, he himself has not only not condemned the crimes of his father’s dictatorship, but presents the then junta as a quasi “golden age”.

About the author

The Liberal Globe is an independent online magazine that provides carefully selected varieties of stories. Our authoritative insight opinions, analyses, researches are reflected in the sections which are both thematic and geographical. We do not attach ourselves to any political party. Our political agenda is liberal in the classical sense. We continue to advocate bold policies in favour of individual freedoms, even if that means we must oppose the will and the majority view, even if these positions that we express may be unpleasant and unbearable for the majority.

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