The Philippines as the Pariah in ASEAN

The administration of President Bongbong Marcos is about to mark its second year in office but it still has not been able to make much headway solving the problems Filipinos face in their daily lives. Rice prices, for example, continue to accelerate with the cheapest at around P50.00 per kg, despite the supposed bumper crop in the last quarter of 2023.

The prices of other basic commodities remain high. Meanwhile, farmers have been dumping harvests of tomatoes and other vegetables because middlemen are not buying their crops for transport to Manila. The logistical bottlenecks continue to be a major reason why farmers and fishermen are among the poorest in the country.

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While major economic problems hound the people, the focus of the Marcos administration continues to be on the South China Sea disputes and “security cooperation” agreements with Western-allied powers, practically isolating the Philippines within the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) whose members continue to refuse to take sides between the United States and China. So far, ASEAN has not gone beyond issuing joint-statements calling for the reduction of tensions in the disputed areas and its diplomatic resolution.

Only the Philippines gave the Americans open access to military bases around its territory. These are supposedly for “civil defense” but, in reality, are staging areas for American military forces in the event of hostilities between the US and China over Taiwan. There are also increasing joint-maritime operations in the South China Sea between the Philippine and the US military.

More concerning is the latest news of the US Navy’s “clandestine” transfer of 39 millions gallons of fuel from Pearl Harbor in Hawaii to the Philippines, as exposed by Senator Imee Marcos, who also warned about the “pre-positioning of military supplies in the country” as tensions flare in the region, which is only exacerbating the situation. The Philippines is evidently becoming an outlier in ASEAN. No less than Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Liong asked the confronting question: Is the Philippines wanting to get in the middle of a conflict between the superpowers that could turn the country into a battleground?

Before Marcos’s US pivot, the Philippines was one with ASEAN in negotiating a code of conduct in the South China Sea. Now, it is mounting a campaign to get the influential ASEAN members, such as Indonesia and Vietnam, to negotiate on a country-to-country basis, for an individual code of conduct in the South China Sea.

The Chinese have continued to assert their claims but have repeatedly said diplomacy should prevail in resolving pending issues. It has also reiterated its commitment to peace in the meeting between China’s Xi Jin Ping and US President Joseph Biden during the APEC Summit in San Francisco, where Xi also met with Marcos in the sidelines. Washington had Vice President Kamala Harris meet with President Marcos in a nondescript room also in the sidelines.

China continues to enjoy healthy relations with other ASEAN member countries such as Vietnam, which Xi Jin Ping visited last December. China is the top foreign investor in Vietnam. The same is true with Indonesia, with the Chinese-built high-speed rail system between Jakarta and Bandung by being inaugurated in 2023 as well.

Thailand, Cambodia and Laos are also benefiting from Chinese investment and soft loans for infrastructure projects. Laos is benefiting substantially from the completed Laos-China railway and Cambodia has two brand new international airports, all with China’s help. Thailand and China are continuing to study the feasibility of the Kra Canal, which would connect the Gulf of Thailand with the Andaman Sea and cut travel time by bypassing transit through the Strait of Malacca. The estimated project cost is $30 billion.

Empty promises for the Filipinos

So far, the Philippines has not received much except investment pledges from America and a renewed commitment from the US Millennium Challenge Corp. which is the State Department conduit for the US Agency for International Development. What Filipinos do not seem to notice is the Americans selling military equipment to the Philippines in the same manner it does to Taiwan to the tune of billions of dollars while over 50% of Filipinos cannot afford a decent living. All if this while Marcos repeatedly insists that he continues to try to find solutions to the everyday problems the average Filipinos face.

Despite the intensive efforts to make it appear that the administration is succeeding, a recent survey showed that Filipinos are not satisfied with the government’s efforts at controlling food inflation. There is also the effort to stifle freedom of speech as both government officials label critical thinking Filipinos who are not in favor of the pivot to the US as traitors or “Makapili,” the term given to Filipinos who collaborated with the Japanese during World War II. These politicians forget the fact that Japan and America bombed each other in the Philippines resulting in the deaths of over a million Filipinos. It’s doubtful that the same officials are willing to die for the country in the event hostilities break out between the US and China over Taiwan.

Stifling free speech and press freedom?

Sonshine Media Network International, more popularly known as SMNI, was investigated by a congressional committee on legislative franchises for possible violations because of its criticism of House Speaker Martin Romualdez and its supposed pro-Duterte and pro-China stance. SMNI has since been suspended by the National Telecommunications Commission, following a resolution from the same committee, pending an investigation.

The majority of the pro-US Philippine media has remained silent over the silencing of ordinary Filipinos and SMNI because of their desire to keep Filipinos on the side of the administration and the US.

A proxy for Uncle Sam

The Philippines is now in a peculiar situation again in the region having become an American proxy once again. It is about to conclude a visiting forces agreement with Japan which would allow Japanese troops in the country in the same way that American military personnel are actively operating. If the bases were truly for civil defense purposes, why would an American tanker carrying 39 million gallons of fuel be bound for Subic Bay from Pearl Harbor? Is this meant for storage in the old Hanjin shipyard which now houses a US base after Hanjin was bought out by American private equity company Cerberus?

The fate of the Philippines hangs in the balance between Uncle Sam and Marcos. The real question is, who really has the best interests of Filipinos in mind? This is despite the fact that the Americans have a long history of just using the country and its people to its advantage.

When will Filipinos learn that Uncle Sam only looks out for himself and not his proxies?

7 Replies to “The Philippines as the Pariah in ASEAN”

  1. The us empire is a war mongering, genocidal imperialistic machine cheered on by 335 millions buffoons. It’s a disgusting -vile business enterprise masquerading as a “country”.

  2. The cokesnorters of this administration also forget that any sane businessman will not set up investments in a potential battlefield, on top of our other disadvantages as an investment destination.

  3. Remember when the USians put pilipinos in zoos to be entertainment for the wasps? Ayala remembers. Get rid of us colonialism and their vile opportunism.

  4. History is history, but that aside, let me make a parallel argument about the islands in dispute.

    The author says, ” the focus of the Marcos administration continues to be on the South China Sea disputes and “security cooperation” agreements with Western-allied powers, practically isolating the Philippines within the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) whose members continue to refuse to take sides between the United States and China. ”

    I’m American and I am offended at the insinuation that all 335 million Americans (living today) are somehow responsible for the actions of a government from a MUCH different time 150 years ago (more or less) that did engage in reprehensible actions in the wake of the annexation of The Philippines after the Spanish American War.

    Having said that, the author seems to think that China actually will honor their wish that “diplomacy should prevail in resolving pending issues” when they have already failed to honor the decision of the international tribunal that said this country has sovereignty over the lands in question. Let’s say I have a modest, 2 BR house on a small lot adjoining the estate of some major business magnate. I have a 2 stall garage behind my hose where I keep my car and my BBQ, lawn mower, paint tools and other household maintenance equipment and supplies. Suddenly that neighbor decides he is going to push my car outside and put HIS boat in their and use my tools and supplies to maintain his boat IN MY GARAGE! Am I supposed to just ask the neighbors down the street to negotiate with someone who, A. has no claim to the garage and B. already lost in a court that decreed the garage to be mine, not his, yet continues to squat in my garage?

  5. This is a correction of the previous comment I made. One word was mispelled due to an old keyboard that occasionally skips a letter & another word was simply the wrong word.

    I have a 2 stall garage behind my hose (should be HOUSE) where I keep my car and my BBQ, lawn mower, paint tools and other household maintenance equipment and supplies. Suddenly that neighbor decides he is going to push my car outside and put HIS boat in their (should be THERE)j and use my tools and

  6. Marcos has been terrible which most rational people thought he would be before being elected.

    The only positive I can say is that maybe the country will get a good president in 4 years.
    Raffy Tulfo is looking like the leading candidate.
    And while it is funny that a guy who failed in America can go to The Philippines and become a huge success, I do think he would probably be a decent president.

    If he would just focus on improving the country and not care about China/America/ASEAN it would be a remarkable change for a country that needs a lot of change.

  7. The Philippines will remain the pariah in Asia as long as our self-interested elites rule the roost, along with their fatal choke-hold on our economy. They should be literally wiped out with extreme prejudice for their failure to lead the country.

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