Recent general elections in The Philippines appear to signal the island nation’s continued but gradual move out from under US subordination and its rise with the rest of Asia as China emerges as both a regional and global superpower.
With Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. set to become the next president along with his running mate, Sara Duterte, daughter of the outgoing President Rodrigo Duterte, the Western media appears convinced that it signals the continued building of relations between The Philippines and China and the gradual diminishing of American influence over both The Philippines and the rest of the region.
The Southeast Asian nation of The Philippines has been of strategic importance to the US pursuit of primacy over Asia for decades. From 1898 to 1946 The Philippines was actually a colony of the United States and since the nation gained its independence at the end of World War 2, the US has sought to maintain a military presence on the island nation, as well as political control over it.
In recent years Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has seriously challenged attempts by the US to derail the nation’s ties with China. China represents not only The Philippines’ largest trade partner, but also an increasingly important infrastructure partner. When the US in 2016 organized an “arbitration” at the Hague rejecting China’s claims over the South China Sea under the nine-dash line, President Duterte refused to leverage it and instead worked with China bilaterally.
According to The Sydney Morning Herald in an article titled, “There is a new Marcos in Manila and he wants a maritime deal with China,” the incoming president, Marcos will likely continue pursuing bilateral solutions rather than seek a confrontation underwritten by Washington.
The article notes:
Philippines is one of several nations that have territorial disputes with Beijing in the South China Sea. But Marcos has foreshadowed an intention to pursue a maritime deal with Xi Jinping’s regime and set aside an international tribunal ruling in The Hague that rejected China’s sweeping claims to most of the contested waterway under its so-called nine-dash line.
“That arbitration is no longer an arbitration if there’s only one party. So, it’s no longer available to us,” he said in January, adding that war is not an option and “bilateral agreement is what we are left with”.
The article also noted that Marcos has insisted he would not turn to the US in regards to his nation’s relations with China.
Policy analysts cited in the article would claim that regardless of the incoming Philippine government’s stated policies, the US and its partners, most notably Australia, would “have to make sure the Marcos regime will not lean too much into the Chinese orbit of influence.”
Benar News, admittedly funded by the US government through an annual grant from the United States Agency for Global Media (USAGM), in its article, “Marcos seen as pro-China; Robredo will likely test Beijing ties,” would make it much clearer:
China would likely enjoy friendly ties with the Philippines if Ferdinand Marcos Jr. wins next week’s presidential election, while his main challenger, Vice President Leni Robredo, has vowed to seek help in protecting Philippine waters in the South China Sea, American analysts said.
This “insight” was garnered from Benar News’ interview with the likewise US government-funded Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) whose analyst Greg Poling claimed:
Marcos is the most pro-Beijing of all candidates. He is the most pro-Chinese in a system where most people are anti-Chinese. He avoids the press and debates, and what we have are these off-the-cuff remarks that are pro-Chinese. He is a friend of the Chinese embassy.
Marcos’ opponent during the election was Leni Robredo. She served as vice president with President Duterte (The Philippines vote for president and vice president separately allowing opposing politicians to serve side-by-side).
The Benar News article would claim regarding her position regarding China and the US:
Poling said Robredo may not be ideologically pro-American or a “cheerleader for the alliance,” but she appears to be a nationalist who could tap allies for help in the territorial row that has dragged on for years.
“She is pragmatic about the South China Sea. [She believes] China is a threat and violates the rule of law in the South China Sea,” Poling said, adding that there was reason to believe that her victory could strengthen the Philippine-US alliance.
Manila is Washington’s biggest ally in Southeast Asia, where an increasingly assertive China is encroaching on other claimant nations’ exclusive economic zones in the disputed South China Sea.
Benar News’ article attempts to suggest Robredo is not excessively “pro-American.” But her track record tells a different story.
Robredo was Washington’s Candidate of Choice
Robredo has previously worked for a legal organization funded through foreign governments and foundations including the US government via USAID. Rouge in an article titled, “The Evolution of Leni Robredo: How the VP Underdog Became the Race’s Strongest Contender,” would note:
Robredo landed a gig with SALIGAN (Sentro ng Alternatibong Lingap Pangligal), an alternative legal support group, begun in Ateneo de Manila University and based in Bicol. “We were like community organizers,” she says of their work. The team would trek to far-flung communities with little to no access to legal aid, and provide paralegal help.
She would spend a decade at SALIGAN, an organization that has for years directly and as part of a wider legal network received funding from and has worked with the US government in shaping and interfering in Philippine sovereign institutions.
In a 2008 USAID document, it would explain:
One ALG, Saligan, reportedly trained almost 500 paralegals to guide farmers’ land reform applications through Department of Agrarian Reform administrative processes. The organization also played a key role in getting the Naga City Government to institutionalize a People’s Council—a permanent official advisory channel for NGO input into the functioning of municipal services.
With “NGOs” serving as one of the US’ major vectors for interfering in the internal political affairs of targeted nations, SALIGAN’s role in creating councils as “advisory channels for NGO input” means giving US-sponsored organizations the ability to directly influence political decisions.
In 2018 as vice president, Robreto would participate in a US National Endowment for Democracy (NED) program – the Young Leaders for Good Governance (YLGG) Fellowship.
The US government-funded program is meant to not only influence who takes leadership roles in the Philippine government, but also what sort of policies they create – essentially building pro-American political cadres in the heart of the Philippine government.
In an International Republican Institute (IRI) article titled, “Why is it Important to Have Local Level Citizen-Centered Governance in the Philippines?,” it would note Robreto’s role in meeting with participants:
The fellows were particularly honored that Vice President of the Philippines, Leni Robredo spoke at the graduation ceremony. Vice President Robredo addressed the importance of fostering good governance and the crucial role these fellows play in the future of the Philippines, in which they should “innovate and search for better ways to solve problems, change mindsets, take risks and be successful politicians without sacrificing their values.”
While the US accuses China of attempting to influence nations around the globe in contradiction to US interests simply through trade and infrastructure investments, one only has to imagine the reaction from Washington if it was China organizing “leadership programs” to train and install into power its own political cadres.
The Urgency of US-Philippine Military “Cooperation”
A recently published RAND Corporation paper titled, “Ground-Based Intermediate-Range Missiles in the Indo-Pacific – Assessing the Positions of U.S. Allies,” focuses on the necessity for the US to place intermediate-range missiles within striking distance of China. These missiles along with other military assets are prerequisites for any conventional war waged by the US against China – conventional war the US sees as absolutely necessary between now and as early as 2025 to prevent China from irreversibly surpassing the US economically and militarily.
The paper mentions the Philippines specifically, claiming:
The US alliance with the Philippines is in a state of flux. While the Philippine public and elites generally support the United States and the alliance itself, current President Rodrigo Duterte has pursued policies that negatively affect ties. Specifically, since his election in May 2016, Duterte has advocated closer ties with Beijing while concurrently pursuing policies that weaken core pillars of the US-Philippine alliance. Although Duterte has backtracked somewhat on these approaches, leading to some improvement in US-Philippine ties, as long as future Philippine leaders continue similar policies, including opposition to a permanent US military presence, the Philippines is extremely unlikely to accept the deployment of US GBIRMs
Because US strategy in regards to encircling, containing, and potentially waging conventional war against China depends heavily on prepositioning these missiles and other military assets along China’s periphery – especially in regards to Taiwan – securing a sufficient US military presence in the Philippines is crucial. But because such a presence meant solely to threaten China would endanger Chinese-Philippine relations including significant economic ties, no rational government would allow it.
The formation of Marcos’ administration will go far in telling just how Philippine policy toward both China and the US will unfold, but it is safe to say that should the new government attempt build closer ties with China and refuse attempts by the US to recruit it into a regional front against Beijing, the US will employ all the familiar tools used to coerce or even overthrow the government in due time.
If the US is convinced already that the Marcos administration will not pivot toward anti-China policies, it may begin destabilizing efforts through extensive media, NGO, and political networks funded through the NED even before his late-June inauguration. Such efforts would start with youth-led protests citing baseless claims of “voter fraud.” Such protests are already underway.
The New York Times in its article, “Marcos Win Prompts Protests in the Philippines,” claims:
Young voters who had rallied around Leni Robredo during the presidential race gathered to voice their frustration with preliminary results showing her overwhelming defeat.
The article also claims:
Multiple election observers said they had received thousands of reports of election-related anomalies since the vote on Monday. Malfunctioning voting machines were one of the biggest concerns, with VoteReportPH, an election watchdog, saying the breakdowns had “severely impaired this electoral process.”
VoteReportPH is a conglomeration of US, Western, and allied-funded organizations. “UP Internet Freedom Network,” for example, admits on its website to being funded by the Taiwan government-funded DoubleThink Lab as well as the Western government-funded “Civicus” network. It is only one of many US-funded networks eagerly supporting the current protests.
It is clear Washington sought a different electoral outcome and will use the now familiar tools of US-sponsored “color revolution” to coerce the incoming government to sabotage its ties with China and militarize itself as yet another US proxy. Failing that, the US would seek to overthrow and replace this government with one more to Washington’s liking.
Only time will tell how long these recent protests last and whether or not The Philippines can manage this balancing act with grace, securing socio-economic stability and exploiting the many opportunities offered by China’s regional and global rise, or if through US interference, the Marcos administration is tripped up, landing The Philippines into internal chaos and at the very least, denying the nation as a partner for China.
Brian Berletic is a Bangkok-based geopolitical researcher and writer, especially for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.