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US-Philippine ties to worsen South China sea dispute: activists

Marcos government's pro-US bent is a threat to national and regional security, they say
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, left, and Philippine Secretary of Foreign Affairs Enrique Manalo shake hands after a joint news conference in Manila, on March 19.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, left, and Philippine Secretary of Foreign Affairs Enrique Manalo shake hands after a joint news conference in Manila, on March 19. (Photo: Evelyn Hockstein/ AFP)

Published: March 20, 2024 12:14 PM GMT
Updated: March 20, 2024 12:34 PM GMT

Filipino activists have warned the expansion of military ties between the US and Philippine governments would worsen the Catholic-majority nation’s ongoing maritime disputes with China.

The activists made the remarks as US Secretary of State Antony Blinken paid a visit to the Philippines on March 19 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 the ally countries like the Philippines,” said lawyer Aaron Pedrosa, leader of Sanlakas, a coalition of progressive groups.

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

The Philippines “has nothing to gain but everything to lose as demonstrated in the Japanese occupation of the Philippines in the 1940s,” he said.

“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.

Blinken said that the US government will continue to back “our common vision for a free, open Indo-Pacific, including in the South China Sea and in the Philippines exclusive economic zone” during a press conference in Manila on March 19.

He said the US condemns China’s “repeated violations of international law and the rights of the Philippines” by using water cannons, blocking maneuvers, close shadowing, and other dangerous operations that threaten the security of the Philippines and the region.

US government would standby with “ironclad defense commitments” under the Mutual Defense Treaty and strong determination “to uphold international law– for the Philippines, for everyone else – against any provocative actions,” Blinken added.

The US official also talked about the economic cooperation, humanitarian assistance, and critical infrastructure for the forthcoming meeting between President Joe Biden, President Marcos, and Japanese Prime Minister Kishida at the White House on April 11.

Blinken said the US looks forward to expanding the EDCA (Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement) to create new locations for access to work together on humanitarian assistance, on disaster relief – such as relief after typhoons and modernizing the military that can offer important benefits to local communities.

The US government plans to invest “an additional $1 billion in the Filipino tech sector and to double the number of semiconductor factories here in the Philippines.”

The US is home to over four million Filipinos, while about 400,000 U.S. citizens reside in the Philippines, according to official data.

During Blinken’s visit, activist groups staged protest rallies in Manila condemning President Marcos for what they said was his pro-US bent that threatens national and regional security.

“Marcos 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, secretary of the progressive group, Bayan.

“We never learn from history. Those who posed as friends ended 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,” Palatino told UCA News.

The US is fueling tensions amid maritime disputes though it 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 Chinese Embassy in Manila said in a statement.

China urges the US “not to instigate trouble in the South China Sea or take sides on the South China Sea issue,” the embassy added.

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