Philippines to keep US as its top security ally — political analysts

UNITED States Vice-President Kamala Harris at Camp Pendleton — OFFICE OF KAMALA HARRIS

By Kyle Aristophere T. Atienza, Reporter

THE UNITED States would likely remain as the Philippines No. 1 security ally under President Ferdinand R. Marcos, Jr., analysts said on Sunday, as the US vice-president is set to visit the country this week.

“In just a few months in office, the implementation of a key defense agreement between the two countries is in full swing,” said Robin Michael R. Garcia, who teaches political economy at the University of Asia and the Pacific.

“The Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement is one of the pillars of the US-Philippine alliance and its implementation was stalled during ex-President Rodrigo R. Duterte’s time,” he said in a Facebook Messenger chat. “The fact that it is being implemented and perhaps expanded tells us that President Marcos is charting a different direction from the previous administration.”

Mr. Garcia said infrastructure development for five military bases is under way.

US Vice-President Kamala Harris, who will be in the Philippines for the first time on Nov. 20 to 22, is expected to meet with Mr. Marcos and Vice-President Sara Duterte-Carpio.

Ms. Harris, the highest-ranking US official to visit the country since Mr. Marcos took office in June, is set to visit the island province of Palawan near the South China Sea.

“The Philippines has taken a different route toward the United States under President Marcos,” Mr. Garcia said. “This was also previously seen in the president’s “charm offensive” in his recent talk with the US business community.

Ms. Harris’ visit to the Philippines follows the meeting between Mr. Marcos and US President Joseph R. Biden in New York, said Victor Andres Manhit, president of think tank Albert del Rosario Institute for Strategic and International Studies.

“The September meeting in the US demonstrates the Marcos administration’s openness and intent to further strengthen and explore more partnerships with the United States as a long-time ally,” he said in a Messenger chat.

Mr. Manhit, citing a June 2022 poll by his group, said the US was the most trusted country by Filipinos at 89%.

In the past five years, the US has committed more than $625 million in military assistance to the Armed Forces of the Philippines, he pointed out.

Mr. Manhit said the two countries are also expected to boost their maritime patrols, which is viewed as essential amid the escalating tension in the region.

He said the Marcos government’s engagements with both the US and China show its “eagerness to redirect the country’s foreign policy away from the US-China strategic competition.”

The presidential palace earlier said the Philippine leader had accepted Chinese President Xi Jinping’s invitation to visit China in January.

“His statements and meetings with President Joe Biden and President Xi Jinping demonstrate his commitment to maintaining a hard balance between the two,” Mr. Manhit said.

“While China is looking at us closely and may perhaps see the Harris visit as a concerning development, it is still trying to woo President Marcos,” Mr. Garcia said. “The outcome of the state visit is something to watch out for.”

Mr. Marcos had a bilateral meeting with Mr. Xi for the first time on the sidelines of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Summit in Thailand last week, where the two tackled the South China Sea dispute.

Mr. Marcos reiterated his position that the sea dispute is not the totality of the two countries’ relations, China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in a statement on Friday.

“Marcos Jr. stressed his consistent view that relations between the two countries should not be defined by maritime issues and that both sides may further enhance communication in this regard,” it added.

The agency said the Philippines wants to find ways to advance joint exploration of oil and gas in the disputed waterway.

“Multilateral cooperation with big and small states should be the direction that the Marcos administration should take in order to secure a better roadmap for the future direction of the country’s foreign policy,” Mr. Manhit said. “This also applies in the context of the global economic recovery from the pandemic.”