Filipino activists wary over further US military presence amid territorial dispute with China

MANILA. A suspected Chinese militia ship passes as personnel onboard the Philippine Coast Guard BRP Malabrigo drives them away from Philippine-occupied areas in the South China Sea on Friday, April 21, 2023. (AP)
MANILA. A suspected Chinese militia ship passes as personnel onboard the Philippine Coast Guard BRP Malabrigo drives them away from Philippine-occupied areas in the South China Sea on Friday, April 21, 2023. (AP) (AP)

ACTIVISTS and community leaders in the Philippines have expressed apprehension following the visit of United States Secretary of State Antony Blinken on March 19 as the latter reiterated his country’s “ironclad defense commitments” and “determination to uphold international law” amid the ongoing territorial disputes at the South China Sea.

“Blinken's visit furthers the standing US containment policy of China, which adds to the growing insecurity in the region. We are inching closer to war as the US and its allies pursue military build-up and troop deployment in ally countries like the Philippines,” said lawyer Aaron Pedrosa, leader progressive coalition of different marginalized sectors in the Philippines, Sanlakas.

“As President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. cements Philippine military allegiance to the US, the road to war is being paved,” Pedrosa told Sunstar Philippines on March 20.

According to the Sanlakas community leader, the Philippines “has nothing to gain but everything to lose as demonstrated in the Japanese occupation of the Philippines in the 1940s.”

“Our urgent appeal is to stop saber-rattling, and setting the stage for confrontation. Rather, pursue diplomacy without guns being trained on both sides, which means demilitarizing the West Philippine Sea and the broader South China Sea,” Pedrosa said.

During his state visit, Blinken maintained that the US and the Philippines “have a shared concern about the PRC’s [People’s Republic of China] actions that threaten our common vision for a free, open Indo-Pacific, including in the South China Sea and in the Philippines exclusive economic zone.”

“Repeated violations of international law and the rights of the Philippines – water cannons, blocking maneuvers, close shadowing, other dangerous operations – these waterways are critical to the Philippines, to its security, to its economy, but they’re also critical to the interests of the region, the United States, and the world,” said Blinken in a joint press conference in Manila with Philippine Secretary of Foreign Affairs Enrique Manalo on March 19.

“It’s why we stand with the Philippines and stand by our ironclad defense commitments, including under the Mutual Defense Treaty. Most important is we stand together in our determination to uphold international law – for the Philippines, for everyone else – against any provocative actions,” Blinken added.

Aside from the security issues discussed during the conference, the US official also talked about the "economic cooperation, humanitarian assistance, and critical infrastructure" for the forthcoming first trilateral meeting between US President Joe Biden, President Marcos, Prime Minister Kishida at the White House on April 11.

Blinken assured support to the Philippines, considered as oldest ally of the US in the Indo-Pacific “with more than 70 years in working together to promote peace and security in the region.”

“The Edca [Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement] expansion is strengthening that further, creating new locations for access to work together on humanitarian assistance, on disaster relief – including, for example, relief after the recent typhoons – and as well as creating greater interoperability, modernizing our military, with real and important benefits for local communities,” the US official said.

Blinken also disclosed that the US government has planned to invest “an additional $1 billion in the Filipino tech sector and to double the number of semiconductor factories here in the Philippines.”

Marcos Jr. also thanked Blinken and his delegation, while saying that the continued engagements with the US ally “remain valuable and important to both our countries.”

Over four million Filipino Americans live in the US, and almost 400,000 U.S. citizens also reside in the Philippines, according to the US State Department.

Blinken’s visit on March 19 was faced with protests by the Bagong Alyansang Makabayan and allied organizations, who condemned the meeting.

“Marcos Jr. is treasonously advancing the geopolitical interest of the US in the region by shamelessly offering the Philippines as an extension of the US military network,” said Mong Palatino, Bayan secretary general.

“We never learn from history. Those who posed as friends end up becoming ruthless invaders and colonizers. Today, our so-called main ally is actively fanning proxy wars and conflicts in various parts of the world,” said Palatino in a statement to Sunstar Philippines on March 19.

According to the progressive group leader, the Philippines’ assertion of sovereignty in the West Philippine Sea against China’s aggression “should not involve the opportunistic meddling of a former colonizer whose real motive is to preserve and expand its imperialist hegemony in the Asia-Pacific.”

China’s reactions

The Chinese Embassy in the Philippines also minced no words over Blinken’s remarks during his visit to the Philippines.

“We firmly oppose the groundless accusations made by Secretary Blinken about China’s legitimate and lawful actions in the South China Sea and his thinly veiled threat to invoke the so-called MDT [the 1951 Mutual Defense Treaty] so-called obligations,” the Chinese Embassy said in a statement on March 20.

“The US is not a party to the South China Sea issue and has no right to interfere in the maritime issues between China and the Philippines. The recent tension in the South China Sea would not have occurred without the US egging on the Philippines,” it added.

China urged the US “not to instigate trouble in the South China Sea or take sides on the South China Sea issue.” (Ronald O. Reyes/SunStar Philippines)


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