Bobby M. Tuazon
People’s Daily
08 May 2024

Since his ascendancy to power in May 2022, President Ferdinand R. Marcos, Jr. has played a key role in transforming Southeast Asia generally from a region of peace and stability to one that is mired in greater tensions and instability. This is because of his pivotal policy to bring the Philippines closer to “an iron-clad” defense alliance with the United States. Marcos’s alliance with the US is illustrated by the opening of the country’s four military facilities to Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) bases for US forces in Palawan and in the tension-filled Taiwan Straits where the peaceful reunification of mainland China and its island province of Taiwan is challenged by the US’ intransigent military support to the ruling, US-leaning Democratic Progressive Party (DPP). In effect, Marcos’s pivotal policy shifted from his predecessor President Rodrigo R. Duterte’s pragmatic stance vis-à-vis China and the US, to an immutable pro-US and anti-China approach.

Two major documents where both the Philippines and China are involved, bear this out:
One is the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea by the ASEAN and China (May 14, 2012) which provided, among others: to resolve their territorial and jurisdictional disputes by peaceful means; pending the peaceful settlement of territorial and jurisdictional disputes, to undertake dialogues and exchange of views between their defense and military officials; notifying other Parties concerned of any impending joint/combined military exercise. The parties also reaffirmed the adoption of a code of conduct in the South China Sea to further promote peace and stability in the region and agree to work, based on consensus, toward the eventual attainment of this objective.

Corollary to this is the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) founded in 1967 by the Philippines, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, and Thailand declaring Southeast Asia as a region of peace, security, neutrality and stability. (ASEAN now includes Brunei, Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, and Vietnam.)

At the very least, another policy glossed over by Marcos Jr. is a 2017 bilateral agreement in Beijing between Duterte and Chinese President Xi Jinping establishing a mechanism of dialogue aimed at the peaceful resolution of maritime rows between the two states. This mechanism has not been fully followed by Duterte’s successor Marcos, Jr. partly due to the latter’s penchant to beckon for US assistance before any urgent issue is discussed with China.

Adding salt to the injury is assigning four more EDCA sites early this year – bringing the total to nine - provoking Beijing’s strong reaction despite the Philippine government’s assurances that they do not target any third country. (Five EDCA sites were opened in 2016 following the agreement between the US and the Philippines in 2014.)

The issue of military facilities came to the fore amid maritime tensions between China and the Philippines in the South China Sea (SEA) fueled by what the Manila government claims as “Chinese aggression” aggravated by the erection of “military garrisons” but which Beijing counters as its legitimate historical and sovereign rights dating back to thousands of years. These are validated by the Chinese’ long occupancy, settlement, and development of the disputed territories and waters as documented by historical records as well as ancient relics, artifacts, and other evidences.

The dispute resolution mechanism between the two countries – the Philippines and China – is mangled by the presence of a third country (US) which lies about 12,000 kilometers away from the SCS. Over the decades and especially today, the US has maintained the presence of naval vessels including destroyers based on what it says is freedom of navigation (FONOP). A number of its ships have sailed close to Chinese coast guard ships provoking further tensions.

The US naval presence has emboldened the Marcos government’s tough stance on China. The ongoing joint Balikatan (shoulder-to-shoulder) war drills involving sea, air, and land forces numbering 11,000 US and 3,000 Filipino personnel due to conclude in early May has drawn flak from China.

The Marcos government’s confrontational policy on China is reinforced by US President Joe Biden who, since September 2022, has expressed all-out support for Marcos’s bellicose stance against Beijing. Clearly, however, the US is using Marcos as a tool in the former’s proxy war against China along with Japan, Australia, the UK, France, and other allies. The Philippines, now under Marcos Jr., provides a geostrategic support to the US’ decades-old encirclement and containment strategy on China. About 400 US military bases in Asia Pacific encircle China today.

Overall, the Marcos presidency has chosen a policy of militarism while abandoning the principle of diplomacy to which both the ASEAN and China adhere to. Militarism is a failed effort to help preserve a fast-sinking American empire.

The Philippines’ strong alliance with the US is a major blow to countries in the region which for decades have been preserving peace, development, and stability in the area. The last that these countries want is a sea of disorder. Unfortunately, the ASEAN’s policy of consensus and compromise – along with peaceful dialogue with a major trading partner, China - will face difficulties as long as one of its founding members prefers a strong and risky alliance with a third country over and above the region’s common interests.

Contesting Marcos’s blind adherence to a strong US-Philippine alliance, former Philippine president Duterte said on April 19, “The US will not die for us…”



Prof. Bobby M. Tuazon used to head the Political Science program of the University of the Philippines (Manila). He is currently the Director for Policy Studies of the Center for People Empowerment in Governance (CenPEG), a think tank. Tuazon’s field of interests include East Asia. A co-author and co-editor of 16 books, Tuazon has recently launched “Spies, Clan Politics, and A New World Order” (350 pages) of which is he the sole author.


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