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The return of the Philippines puppet Mark 2

Written by: (Contributed) on 16 March 2024


The recent visit of Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jnr. to Australia for high-level diplomatic talks marks a return to the days of the previous Cold War now being played-out with the present one against China.

Taking place on the eve of the ASEAN Summit in Melbourne, the Marcos address to parliamentarians in Canberra was designed to act as a rallying-cry for a further escalation of diplomatic hostilities between US-led positions and China inside the regional trade body.

The Philippines has had a long history of political leaders who acted as puppets for US-led regional diplomacy; the present President Ferdinand Marcos Jnr. is no exception to the general rule. Historically, US military strategists have used the Philippines as the centre of an arc which swings to the more economically developed countries of northern Asia and the under-developed yet resource rich countries of South-east Asia. (1) Operations have followed the regional planning.

An arc from sensitive US intelligence facilities based at Pine Gap, Central Australia, likewise, swings to counterparts on Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean and Guam in the Pacific which have been upgraded as hubs for regional operations. (2) The arc also cuts across the Philippines where the US now has access to nine military bases in strategic areas of the country based on the defence and security of 'US interests' in Taiwan and sensitive island chains used to restrict access and egress across the region. (3)

While great play was made of the Philippines closing some of the huge US military bases in the 1990s with the end of the previous Cold War, the Pentagon soon returned by stealth; emphasis was placed upon re-opening former military facilities then hosted by the Philippine government, partnered to enable US troop rotations with 'permission to operate from the old installations as guests, mostly on the temporary basis'. (4) The moves in the Philippines were also accompanied by similar diplomacy across the region; high-level diplomacy conducted by then President Obama toward traditional allies included numerous agreements about increasing the US military presence without too much publicity about longer-term implications. (5)

The relationship between US-led regional foreign policy and the Philippines, nevertheless, soured considerably with the election of President Rodrigo Duterte whose administration pursued a popularist and pragmatic line; Duterte, politically, came from outside the traditional ruling oligarchies imposed on the Philippines by the Spanish colonial administrations. Instead of, therefore, pursuing the US-led policies of confrontation with China, the Duterte administration stated that it 'will not take sides with any parties contesting China's move to set up a missile base on some of the islands in the South China Seas … this is to avoid the Philippines being dragged into a conflict between superpowers'. (6) The political and diplomatic position was quite clear. It included reference to 'it is not in our national interest … to … be involved in any armed confrontation between China and the US … an independent foreign policy is the best position to take … everything will be resolved in peaceful and diplomatic means'. (7)

The position of the Duterte administration also included their questioning and possible termination of a 1998 agreement with joint US-Philippine military exercises, which set alarm bells ringing frantically in the Pentagon. (8) It effectively threatened to push the US into a front-line position as opposed to lurking behind regional partners and allies. When then President Obama addressed a graduation of US military cadets at West Point, New York, in 2014, for example, he stated 'it was possible for the US to lead through example and by creating international alliances … and … the promise of a less aggressive American foreign policy', was subsequently used for the later Indo-Pacific Strategy. (9)

With the demise of the Duterte administration and election of Marcos Jnr. the US gave a sign of relief; the oligarchies were back in control, with the Marcos oligarchy holding presidential power. Washington and the Pentagon were subsequently able to return to the traditional hegemonic and diplomatic positions of the previous Cold War, now played-out in the present one against China.

It was, therefore, no surprise to observe President Marcos Jnr. being given a big welcome in Canberra; Australia is a regional hub for 'US interests', with defence and security considerations resting partly on the Philippines. In fact, the US regard the Philippines as the front-line with its diplomatic hostilities toward China, with 'Australia the main rear for US military forces'. (10) The diplomatic positions include preparations for 'real-war scenarios'. In recent times, for example, Australian military facilities have been upgraded specifically for this purpose, coinciding with the formal Visiting Forces Agreements between the Philippines, Australia and the US leaving little to the imagination about longer-term implications.

Marcos, furthermore, used his visit to Canberra and address in Parliament House, on the eve of the ASEAN Summit in Melbourne, to state the Philippines 'is prepared to choose a side', namely the US against China. (11) Most ASEAN member countries, however, prefer to not take sides between the US or China; they benefit from diplomacy with both sides. (12)

No doubt the US is, therefore, pleased with their Marcos Mark 2 puppet in Manila, who is serving 'US interests' well, as his father did before him, together with the sowing of seeds of doubt and division inside ASEAN, the premier Asian trade bloc:

                                      We also need an independent foreign policy!

1.     The objectives of the US, The Guardian, 6 August 2003.
2.     See: Peters Projection, World Map, Actual Size.
3.     US plans to expand its military presence in the Philippines to counter threats against Taiwan, USA Today, 2 February 2023.
4.     US eyes return to south-east Asian bases, The Guardian, 29 June 2012.
5.     US signs defence deal in Asia, The Guardian, 2 May 2014.
6.     Duterte won't antagonise China over missile system, The Philippine Star, 9 May 2018.
7.     Ibid.
8.     Philippines rethinks defence deal with the US, Australian, 4 June 2020.
9.     US signals foreign policy shift away from military might, The Guardian, 6 June 2014, and; The reasons behind Washington's push for GSOMIA., Hankyoreh, 12 November 2019.
10.   Guardian, op.cit., 6 August 2003.
11.   Bongbong knows he needs friends, Australian, 1 March 2024.
12.   See: Tapping in to ASEAN needs, Australian, 7 March 2024, with reference to the 'China plus one' strategy of ASEAN member countries.


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