Philippines-Ukraine relations

[Rappler’s Best] Of wars and presidents

Glenda M. Gloria

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[Rappler’s Best] Of wars and presidents

TWO PRESIDENTS. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy delivers his opening remarks during a bilateral meeting with Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. at the Malacañang Palace on June 3, 2024.


Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy 'share a common problem these days: China'

The president of a country that’s battling the second strongest military in the world – and which has seen at least 30,000 of its soldiers and 10,000 civilians killed – flew into Manila late Sunday night, June 2. He came from Singapore, where he attended Asia’s top security summit, the Shangri-La Dialogue.

When Rappler’s security and foreign affairs reporter Bea Cupin broke the story on the hush-hush trip of Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskyy last night, not a few asked why. After all, the war in Ukraine, while savage and causing a humanitarian catastrophe, is being fought nearly 6,000 miles away from the Philippines and has its most immediate impact on Europe. Surely President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. could not offer anything to Zelenskyy beyond a warm handshake?

But the two presidents share a common problem these days: China. 

Zelenskyy has been complaining about China’s supposed efforts to derail a Switzerland-initiated peace summit in the middle of June. In this chaotic global order, China is firmly allied with Ukraine’s invading force Russia. In May, Russia’s dictator Vladimir Putin, after winning yet another six-year term, paid a visit to Beijing, his second to the Chinese capital in two years. Just days before Putin deployed thousands of Russian soldiers and tanks to Ukraine in February 2022, he also flew to Beijing to meet with President Xi Jinping.

Xi and Putin are besties, while Marcos and Zelenskyy find themselves cursed with nasty neighbors whose firepower they cannot match. Thus, the visit to Manila of a president from a faraway land is symbolic of Western muscle in turbulent regional waters that, ironically, would need such muscle to keep the peace.

The battle-scarred Zelenskyy is learning the pros and perils of Western power the hard way. He’s had to navigate the internal squabbles of his Western allies to get the military aid that his country needs before it gets fully pulverized by Putin. US President Joe Biden, running in a tight presidential race, is not even certain to attend the peace summit. 

In the last few months, the Ukraine president has had to fight another type of battle with countries that have promised him help but which have been caught in their own debilitating fights over money and agenda. Marcos can learn a thing or two from him.

But what does the war in Ukraine mean for Filipinos? In February, Rappler’s senior multimedia producer JC Gotinga joined a team of reporters from the region who visited Ukraine.

  • If Russia wins the war, JC wrote in this piece, this would again embolden others to invade territories. The Philippines could very well relate to this as it is currently embroiled in a maritime dispute with China.
  • In this story, JC walks us through the rubble and anguish of war.

War has dominated online and on-ground conversations around the world. If we needed any proof of these volatile times, the usually sedate Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore offered another one: fireworks erupted over Taiwan, China, and the South China Sea.

China did not hold back at the forum, with one of its generals, the commandant of the Chinese military’s International College of Defense Studies, standing up to ask Marcos on Friday, May 31, about the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and its commitment to regional peace.

  • Major General Xu Hu spoke for two minutes to lecture Marcos about the concept of centrality among ASEAN members before the moderator cut him short to allow the President to respond. Watch it here.
  • Marcos was also asked by another participant about a hypothetical scenario where a Filipino is killed in conflict with a foreign power. He said this would make Manila invoke its Mutual Defense Treaty with the US. Watch it here.
  • Quite buried in the acerbic language of the key speakers, especially that of the US and Chinese defense chiefs, is the fact that Marcos made history as the first Philippine leader to deliver a keynote at the Shangri-La Dialogue. In his speech on Friday, he once again denounced China’s “illegal, coercive” actions in the West Philippine Sea. 
  • Overall, however, Marcos tackled the importance of international law, the critical role of middle powers in regional stability, and ASEAN centrality. Read the full text here.

Retired Supreme Court senior justice Antonio Carpio, who’s been at the forefront of Manila’s legal battle with Beijing on the West Philippine Sea, noted that Marcos’ speech marked the “first time” for a Philippine president to state that the Philippine territory is defined by the 1898 Treaty of Paris “as clarified by the 1900 Treaty of Washington.”

“This is factually, legally, and historically correct,” Carpio said, adding that Marcos’ assertion “finally corrects the greatest misconception in Philippine history that Philippine territory is limited to the islands within the Paris Treaty lines.” –

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Glenda M. Gloria

Glenda Gloria co-founded Rappler in July 2011 and is currently its executive editor.