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Philippines Constitutional change: lingering spirits and the ghosts of the past

Written by: (Contributed) on 29 March 2024


Above: Filipinos rallying in February 2024 against Changes (“Cha”) to the Constitutional Charter (“Cha”)


Claims by political opposition figures in the Philippines that the presidential administration of Ferdinand Marcos Jnr. is conspiring to make changes to the constitution in order to enable the president to serve longer terms of office, are an indication of US foreign policy complicity inside the Philippine political system. 

The Philippines has long been considered a vital strategic part of US regional defence and security provision with the Marcos oligarchy widely regarded as puppets with Washington and the Pentagon pulling the strings.

The US is still haunted, even in the aftermath of the previous Duterte presidential administration, from when the Philippines democratically distanced itself from the US and sought a more stable diplomatic position toward China; the US do not want a re-run of the problem in any forthcoming elections. Philippine democracy is seen as an obstacle.

On the 18th and 19th March, US Secretary of State, Antony Blinken visited Manila for high-level diplomatic talks with the presidential administration of Ferdinand Marcos Jnr. It was Blinken's second such visit to Manila, highlighting the move by the US to push the Philippines into the front-line of US-led regional foreign policy and diplomatic hostilities with China. 

The diplomatic talks were accompanied with officially prepared media releases which contained no ambiguity. It was officially announced, for example, the diplomatic visit was 'to strengthen the US-Philippine alliance in pursuit of common interests ... with … Marcos' desire to be closer to Washington'. (1) The announcement that 'the deepening of Washington and Manila ties had also led to expanding cooperation with neighbours in the Indo-Pacific', was also acknowledgement the Philippines was officially linked into the US-led Indo-Pacific Strategy (IPS). (2)

The US-led IPS is based on the US-Japan alliance as a global strategy, resting upon the so-called 'Quad' of the US, Japan, India and Australia, effectively hemming in China on four sides. (3) It is, therefore, not coincidental to note forthcoming high-level diplomatic relations scheduled in Washington next month include those between Blinken, Marcos and Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishada. (4) 

Surprise agendas are unlikely. The IPS has evolved from a previous hardening of US-led attitudes toward China; over a decade ago Japanese diplomatic officials who actually spoke Chinese and had direct contact with counterparts in China were 'removed from the front-line of diplomacy', laying the basis for the present Cold War position. (5)

Two serious considerations have arisen: claims by Philippine opposition figures that the Marcos administration is planning to alter the constitution to extend single six-year presidential terms of office; an official acknowledgement that Blinken's second visit to Manila took place to track 'a serious regional crisis and probably armed conflict'. (6)

The former is a particularly sensitive issue for most Filipinos; the 1987 constitution was designed to deal with the legacy created by Marcos' father who governed the country by dictatorship and repression. For many, the move to alter the constitution remains reminiscent of the 1973 move by Ferdinand Marcos Snr. 'that indefinitely extended his term of office, leading to rampant corruption, human rights abuses and extra-judicial killings'. (7)
The US, nevertheless, would clearly like the present presidential administration to continue to remain in office for as long as possible, in the name of 'US interests'. (8)

One of the most vocal of the critics of Marcos Jnr. has been former president Duterte, who pursued a more independent foreign policy toward China. His presidential administration was subsequently regarded as problematic for both Washington and the Pentagon, and they were glad to see his demise and the rise of Marcos as more in line with traditional regional hegemonic diplomatic positions.

President Marcos Jnr. has already proposed a referendum to take place alongside mid-term elections next year about the proposed constitutional changes which he announced 'was not written for the globalised world … to enable … greater foreign investment'. (9) Foreign investment into the Philippine economy is at present limited to forty per cent of ownership, and the US is only too pleased to further increase their foothold into the political system; the moves can best be viewed as diplomatic manoeuvres akin to a puppet and puppet-masters. The present Marcos presidential administration, for example, has already been noted as 'the new darling of the West because of its principled and robust stance it has taken on China and its expanding security cooperation with western partners and allies'. (10)  

The latter is a problem which has emerged following flawed intelligence assessments that China, the main imperialist rival to the US, has systematically embarked upon 'grey-zone activities in the South China Seas', and been pursuing unclear political and military agendas. (11) In recent years, using the Marcos Jnr. presidential administration, the US has extended its military presence in the Philippines from five to nine bases, including some in the northern part of the country facing Taiwan which they regard as a potential 'theatre of war'.

The US has been concerned about the growing imbalance of power across the Taiwan Straits for over a decade, and a recent announcement that the US were training Taiwanese troops on 'outlying islands that would be on the front lines of a conflict with its neighbour', has coincided with recent developments. (12) One of the islands concerned, Kinmen (Jinmen in Mandarin, meaning “Golden Gate”), has military facilities for amphibious soldiers; it is only ten kms from the Chinese city of Xiamen in Fujian Province, while being 187 kms from Taiwan. Kinmen's beaches have been noted as having numerous anti-invasion spikes, military posts and bomb shelters. (13) The fact US troops are officially based so close to China must be regarded by Beijing as extremely provocative. Moves by many Kinmen residents to push for a de-militarised zone and peace island, with a bridge constructed to link the island with mainland China, has been ignored by the ruling DPP presidential administrations in Taipei, revealing their intention of following Cold War US regional foreign policy. (14)

These are worrying developments, increasing the likelihood of real-war scenarios
in the Indo-Pacific region, with serious implications for Australia:

                                           We need an independent foreign policy!

(Important extra reading -  a statement by Compatriots of the National Democratic Front of the Philippines.)  

1.     Blinken's second Manila visit, The Philippine Star, 15 March 2024.
2.     The reasons behind Washington's push for GSOMIA., Hankyoreh, 12 November 2019.
3.     Ibid.
4.     Philippine Star, op.cit., 15 March 2024.
5.     Choppy weather in the China Seas, Le Monde Diplomatique, December 2012.
6.     Marcos accused of grab for power, Australian, 19 March 2024; and, Grey-zone response a way to call China's brinkmanship bluff, Australian, 22 March 2024.
7.     Australian, op.cit., 19 March 2024.
8.     See: The Objectives of the US., The Guardian, 6 August 2003.
9.     Australian, op.cit., 19 March 2024.
10.   Ibid.
11.   Australian, op.cit., 22 March 2024; and, See: Pentagon plays the spy game, The Guardian Weekly (U.K.), 7 December 2012.
12.  US trains Taiwanese troops on islands, Australian, 21 March 2024.
13.   A China-Taiwan DMZ., CNN., 1 June 2023.
14.   Ibid.


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