When asked how he would manage alliances between China and the United States in case of a conflict, Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos, Jr. said that he would keep things friendly with both.
“I reject the idea that we have to be [what was like] during the Cold War. ‘Naka-ally ka dito, naka-ally ka diyan. Doon ka lang.’ Tayo, we have to remember ang alliance natin is with the Philippines. Dun natin isipin, ano bang interest ng Pilipinas?,” the son of ousted dictator Ferdinand Marcos said in on Wednesday’s (March 16) Kapihan sa Manila Bay online forum.
(“I reject the idea that we have to be [what was like] during the Cold War. ‘You are allied here, you are allied there. Stay where you are.’ We have to remember that our alliance is with the Philippines itself. That’s when we think ‘what is the interest of our people?”)
His words brought to mind his campaign’s concept of unity yet again, presidential candidate Marcos later said that “in essence, you want to be friends with them. You don’t want to be fighting with anybody.”
Building on the “many things” that the United States has done and can do for the Philippines, Marcos said that he will not discontinue the highly controversial Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) and the Mutual Defense Treaty (MDT). According to him, the VFA (a measure that carries-out aspects of the MDT, which in-turn would allow for both countries to support each other in wartime) has changed significantly since it was first signed, and it will continue to change as time goes on.
Much like how outgoing President Rodrigo Duterte remained almost entirely hands-off in the West Philippine Sea debacle, Marcos later said that “[the Philippines is] a very small player amongst these giants in terms of geopolitics. I always say ‘if they sneeze at the same time, we’d disappear from the map.’ So that’s the precarious situation that we are in [...] It's a very fine line that we have to tread.”
In a January interview with Boy Abunda, Marcos revealed that he will not enforce the historic Hague ruling on the West Philippine Sea. Believing that a bilateral agreement would avoid the possibility of waging war, Marcos said that “that arbitration is no longer an arbitration if there’s only one party. So, it’s no longer available to us.” A claim that was slammed by defense foreign policy experts, with one saying that Marcos is being biased for China.
With friends like these
However friendly Marcos painted the United States’s military power to be, progressive groups had slammed policies such as the VFA before. In a commemorative statement in 2021, multi-sectoral alliance Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (BAYAN) lamented the environmental and economic damages left by US military bases after that were abandoned from 1991 to 1992.
“Prostitution of our women and the proliferation of red light districts for the sake of US soldiers may have been minimized with the closure of permanent bases. Nonetheless, the grim poverty in these places, abetted by a bases-dependent local economy, continues to make women and children vulnerable to abuse as well as shape the lives of Filipino communities,” the alliance said, all the while condemning other military policies such as the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA).
Likewise, Christina Palabay, secretary-general of human rights alliance Karapatan, condemned the United States’s military influence in a 2017 statement.
“Such agreements allow US troops in the country without being subjected to PH laws, allowing them to commit rights abuses with impunity. Such a brazen act of disregard against our sovereignty has caused outrage from the Filipino people, with no less than the government as a willing accomplice to the blatant violation of our own laws and our own people,” Palabay said.
Calls to junk the VFA also intensified in 2014, following the murder of trans woman Jennifer Laude. This happened again in 2020 when Lance Cpl. Joseph Scott Pemberton, Laude’s killer, was pardoned by Duterte.
“Like how Vietnam bravely denounces China’s aggression, the Philippine government should not hesitate to deplore China by lodging a formal complaint before any legal and diplomatic venue, and up to the court of public and international opinion,” Fernando Hicap, national chair of fishers’ alliance Pambansang Lakas ng Kilusang Mamamalakaya ng Pilipinas (PAMALAKAYA) said in 2020.
Reuben Pio Martinez is a news writer who covers stories on various communities and scientific matters. He regularly tunes-in to local happenings. The views expressed are his own.
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