President Rodrigo Duterte recently expressed apprehension over the possible break-out of armed confrontation between the US and China in the South China Sea (SCS). He claims, China is “already in possession” of the sea and that US military drills are only provoking counter-action. The Philippines will suffer in the event of such a war in the area.
Duterte is washing his hands of responsibility for the rising tensions in the SCS. The fact is he has a lot to answer for in the state of affairs in the SCS which arose partly because of his two-sided betrayal of Philippine national sovereignty allowing both the US and China to militarize or heighten their military presence in the sea.
The Filipino people are suffering from Duterte’s spineless foreign policy and his refusal to uphold the countrys sovereignty on various issues. Duterte’s betrayal is tantamount to selling off the Filipino people’s wealth and national freedom, which further strengthens imperialist power and domination.
On the one hand, Duterte is completely selling out to China the country’s wealth and rights in the SCS. In the past two years, he has set aside Philippine sovereignty in the Spratly islands when he acted meek while China engaged in the reclamation of close to 1,300 hectares of land on which it erected various facilities. Several thousand hectares of reefs and fishing ground were ruined by these construction.
Duterte set aside the 2016 Arbitral Tribunal decision which decided that the Spratly islands, the Scarborough Shoals and other areas of the SCS as part of the Philippine exclusive economic zone and extended continental shelf and recognizes Philippine rights under the UN Convention on the Law of the Seas. Duterte is inciting baseless fear that “the Philippines cannot afford to go to war with China” as if war is the only way to assert the country’s rights.
With Duterte’s refusal to uphold such decision, China was given free rein to build its military bases in the Spratly islands to strengthen its military presence in the area against the US. Among others, China built an airfield with a 10,000-foot runway, ports and other facilities. Chinese coast guards continue to interdict Filipino fisherfolk as if they own the Philippine seas. Heightened Chinese military presence in the SCS aim to curb US military presence and secure vast resources under the sea.
In the face of all these, the obsequious Duterte has acted like a meek lamb who knows no profanity. With complete servility, he recently declared to China: “So youre there, youre in possession, you occupied it. Then tell us what route shall we take and what kind of behavior.” Duterte’s servility is absolutely obscene. He has no sense of national integrity.
Duterte’s shameless servility and submission to China has no other aim but to plead for more loans to fund his ambitious Build, Build, Build program. The visit by China President Xi Jinping this November will serve as occasion to sign an agreement for “joint exploration” of the Philippine seas, violating even the 1987 constitution which reserves such right to the State.
Similarly questionable is the China-funded 2005 Joint Marine Seismic Undertaking (JMSU) which sought to determine the wealth in more than 142,886-square-kilometer of seas (almost half of the total Philippine land mass). The study was completed in 2007 but China has exclusively held on the results. China estimates that the SCS holds as much as $60 trillion worth of oil, natural gas and other minerals. In the name of “exploration,” China hopes to determine whether it is commercially viable to mine these resources.
Just like how China dangled a $904 million loan package in 2004 for Arroyo in exchange for the JMSU, China is now dangling several billion dollars of loans for Duterte including funds for rail projects, roads and others to have the “joint exploration” agreement which China wants to be presumed on its sovereignty claims. In exchange for these few billion dollars of loans, Duterte wants to give China not only trillions of dollars worth of resources, but the country’s sovereignty as well. With Duterte’s appetite for high-interest China loans, the Philippines is bound to be a debt-slave.
On the other hand, Duterte is also shameless for his subservience to the US imperialists. He has castigated the SCS naval exercises of the US for risking an armed confrontation with China, but has allowed the US full military use of the country’s ports for US warships. The Philippines serves as a base of the US for mounting so-called “freedom of navigation operations” to supposedly secure trade routes but in fact ensure only US presence and power in the SCS.
At any time, the US military can use Philippine airports and other facilities to stockpile war materiél and for rest and recreation of American troops.
Under Duterte, the number of joint exercises and war games mounted by the US military is increasing.
Duterte’s proclamation that he would not allow stockpiling of weapons in Palawan is meaningless. In fact, the US has long been using the Ulungan naval base which it expanded in 2014 to be used as port and storage under EDCA. It has constructed a series of radars along the Palawan stretch to spy on the Philippine seas. In the name of prepositioning “humanitarian and disaster response,” the US set up facilities in Pampanga to be used by its military. It is building military facilities in no less than five AFP camps across the country.
The US continues to fortify its domination in the Philippines by strengthening its control of the AFP. According to the US, it has 200-300 military advisers to the AFP who are permanently stationed in the Philippines. They provide trainings and direct some AFP operations. The US continues to provide military aid to the AFP, including drones, helicopters, guns, bullets and other weapons used in armed suppression under Oplan Kapayapaan.
The US continues to pour funds to Marawi to strengthen its presence in Mindanao. On its prodding, Duterte declared the CPP and NPA as “terrorists” to give the US pretext for establishing its Operation Pacific Eagle-Philippines (OPE-P) as a US “anti-terrorist operation” which is now used as platform for US intervention in the country. By extending martial law in Mindanao, US initiative is also strengthened through the AFP’s imposition of absolute power.
The US has long used the Philippines as an instrument for its hegemony. It has used the country as base for its wars in Korea, Vietnam, Iran, Afghanistan and other countries. Because of this, it is also always a target of US rivals and enemies since the 1930s.
Under Duterte, the US continues to use the Philippines for its military strategy. It is now using the country as a base to contain the rise of China’s military power, project power and maintain permanent military presence in the South China Sea to secure control of the trade routes.
The country remains without national sovereignty and economic freedom under Duterte. It remains to be a semicolony of US imperialism which continues to be the dominant political and military power in the country. Duterte’s declaration of an “independent foreign policy” is hollow.
In the face of the worsening crisis of the global capitalist system and rising China challenge to US power, the Philippines is a tool and target of both imperialist powers. Because of Duterte’s servility to the US and China, sooner or later, the country will be caught between the battle of two imperialist giants.
This can only be avoided if the whole Filipino people will firmly assert national sovereignty and vigorously advance the policy of peace and non-alignment. The people must assert the country’s sovereignty in the SCS and demand its demilitarization, calling for both the dismantling of Chinese military bases and the withdrawal of all US warships in the Philippine territorial seas.
In line with this, the people must assert economic sovereignty, through genuine land reform and national industrialization. Upholding national sovereignty can be effectively carried out only if the country has economic freedom and can stand on its own two feet; on the other hand, economic freedom can only be achieved if there is national freedom to determine the country’s destiny in accordance with the people’s interests.