2022 PH presidential race

In dealing with ‘friend’ China, Marcos will set aside Hague win and US treaty

Lian Buan, Sofia Tomacruz

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In dealing with ‘friend’ China, Marcos will set aside Hague win and US treaty
Marcos prefers a bilateral agreement, but bilateral talks with China had done little. His stance against asking US assistance echoes Duterte's defeatist policy

MANILA, Philippines – Presidential aspirant Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr looks prepared to set aside the historic arbiration win of the Philippines in The Hague to continue engaging the Chinese, whom he repeatedly called “friends” in a series of media interviews this week.

“That arbitration is no longer an arbitration if there’s only one party. So, it’s no longer available to us,” said Marcos in an interview with entertainment host Boy Abunda on Tuesday, January 25.

Saying that the option of war “must be dismissed outright,” Marcos said “bilateral agreement is what we are left with.”

The Philippines and China have been having bilateral talks even as tensions rise in the West Philippine Sea. It has done little to deter China’s creeping expansion and continued incursions in Philippine waters. In April last year, Chinese vessels swarmed and lingered around Julian Felipe Reef (Whitsun Reef) in the West Philippine Sea, ignoring Philippine demands to leave the country’s waters and instead move to nearby features

Marcos’ readiness to set aside the 2016 Hague ruling is in contrast to the stance of the four other top presidential bets, especially Vice President Leni Robredo who is very categorical in saying the Hague ruling must be “leveraged.” Robredo said she is only open to discussing a joint exploration with China if they will acknowledge the arbitral win.

Senator Panfilo “Ping” Lacson said over Jessica Soho’s presidential interview “kailangang ituloy ‘yun kasi permanent ang ruling na ‘yung kaya lang hindi implementable (we need to push for that because that is a permanent ruling but it’s not implementable.)

Lacson said the workaround is to strengthen alliances with countries which have a strong military like the United States.

No to US help

On the other hand, Marcos said he will not ask the help of the United States when it comes to dealing with China.

“No [I will not ask US for help]. The problem is between China and us. If the Americans come in, it’s bound to fail because you are putting the two protagonists together,” Marcos told Abunda.

He was asked the same question during the DZRH presidential panel on Tuesday, where it was pointed out to him that the US and the Philippines have a long-standing Mutual Defense Treaty.

“Anong klaseng tulong? Magdadala rin sila ng aircraft carrier dito at tututukan nila mga warship ganun? Iisipin nyo kung magka gyera sino ang kawawa? Edi Pilipinas. Kaya wag paabutin yung problema sa putukan, sa gyera,” said Marcos.

(What kind of help? Will they bring aircraft carriers and aim at warships? If war breaks out, who loses? Philippines. So let’s not allow the problem to escalate to a shooting, to a war.)

It’s a position that echoes President Rodrigo Duterte’s defeatist stand and one that security, legal, and foreign policy experts have consistently debunked as a false choice and “hollow attempt” to scare the public into submitting to China. The MDT is also precisely considered a deterrent to China’s aggressive tactics in the South China Sea. 

Marcos indicated he was open to asking for help from ASEAN nations, the United Nations and “whatever international organization that can help,” just not the United States because according to him “kapag pinasok mo ang US, kaaway mo na agad ang China (if you let the US come in, you make China your enemy.)”

Talk and talk to friends

Marcos said the first issue he will try to resolve is to ask China to allow Filipino fishermen in the West Philippine Sea.

“Siguro naman we can come to an agreement, that, as a matter of fact, dahil kaibigan ko naman ang mga nasa Chinese embassy, nag uusap na kami tungkol dyan,” said Marcos over DZRH’s presidential interview.

(I think we can come to an agreement. As a matter of fact, people from the Chinese embassy are my friends, we have been talking about that.)

Under the Constitution, however, Filipinos are already allowed to fish in the West Philippine Sea, while the state is mandated to protect and reserve the country’s marine wealth in its exclusive economic zone “exclusively to Filipino citizens.” 

More so, Duterte had undertaken a similar agreement – to little effect. Hundreds of Filipino fisherfolk continue to witness Chinese harassment in Philippine waters and have seen dwindling catch in areas like Recto Bank, where Chinese vessels had crowded the area.

Abunda, in his interview, asked: What if all diplomatic ways have failed, and the Chinese continues to harass us?

Marcos said: “We must engage, there’s no other way. Anong ibang solusyon? Sabihin natin yung United States, pumasok kayo uli dito sa Pilipinas, kayo ang mag defend sa atin. Hindi na pwede yun.”

(What is the other solution? Let’s say we allow the United States to come in and defend us. We can’t do that.)

During the ALC media forum on Monday, January 24, Marcos was asked how he can keep the military happy knowing that the Chinese had been aggravating the situation, with Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana engaging the Chinese embassy in a rare word war.

Marcos said: “We should gear our military, as you say, to civil defense, and internal threats. And I think diplomacy is what we will use to mitigate or to lessen external threats.” – Rappler.com

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Lian Buan

Lian Buan is a senior investigative reporter, and minder of Rappler's justice, human rights and crime cluster.
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Sofia Tomacruz

Sofia Tomacruz covers defense and foreign affairs. Follow her on Twitter via @sofiatomacruz.