During the campaign for President of the Philippines, Ferdinand Marcos Junior turned down the debate with his opponents, saying he preferred to talk directly to the public. Some people argued his ducking of debates caused people to lose the opportunity to scrutinize the difference between candidates’ policies. The presidential election of the Philippines was held on May ninth, which was commented on by some analysts as a very “consequential election in recent Philippines history.” The reason for the comment should start from the candidates, Mr. Marcos and Ms. Robredo, the son of the former dictator and the current vice president, respectively. These two candidates have different tendencies on foreign policies, which leads the comment to imply worry about what is the next step for the Philippines. Mr. Marcos is on the pro-China side, while Ms. Robredo proclaims a tough approach toward Beijing. Although there are two different tendencies for the two candidates, the realistic and beneficial strategy for them is hedging, relying on China on the economic side, and getting security guarantees from the US.
Seeking such a security guarantee from the US is imperative for the Philippines, because the dispute on the South China Sea is not finished yet. In the last two years, China has developed the “gray zone” strategy, dominated the seas by navigating huge fishing ships around the disputed islands, and deployed the coastguard near the islands through the excuse of protecting their fishermen. Meanwhile, the US emphasized the “rule-based order,” sending fleets across the South China Sea. As the first island chain to contain China, there is a treaty, Visiting Forces Agreement, which allows for mutual visits of officials, symbolizing the cooperation on military issues. Ms. Robredo will definitely seize this treaty if she wins the election, while Mr. Marcos will not rescind the treaty easily because of geopolitics.
China has been famous for its “wolf warrior” diplomacy and the One Belt One Road (OBOR) initiative for several years. The Philippines needs China to endorse their questionable reputation on human rights, and also infrastructure projects to develop its economic situation. Since 2016, President Duterte has been accused of violating human rights through the drug war by the ICC, and China is willing to echo opposition against any regime based on Western countries. Meanwhile, the Philippines has chronically suffered from poverty, corruption and a broken economy. The projects of OBOR are the hope for them, although they have not come to fruition yet. On the economy and human right values, the Philippines may stand behind the stance of China, but it needs to be careful not to trap itself with those loans.
In the Philippines’ political situation, presidential campaigns do not focus on the economy, rotten because of Covid-19, graft or poverty. In contrast, they focus on candidates’ personalities and the future of country’s freedom more. Now Mr. Marcos got 55% of the support of voters, from which there is an enormous gap with the second candidate, Ms. Robredo, who got 24%. No matter who wins the election eventually, hopefully the Philippines will not turn the clock back to the imaginary golden age of autocracy. The leader needs to take a hedging strategy to develop the country and both embrace cooperation with both the US and China while remaining firm on its sovereign integrity in the South China Sea.
Written by Eddie C.
Edited by Ari B.