The last few months has seen Philippines President Ferdinand Marcos Jr pursue an unprecedented anti China policy which has dismayed many Filipinos. Key in this policy is his effort to bring the Philippines into the US encirclement of China through the provision of new military bases; and a further strengthened Philippines – US military alliance aimed – according to US defence sources – at “deepening coordination and interoperability at all levels” in the South China Sea.
These moves which have been criticised by Filipino critics as returning the country to its status as a de facto US colony have been accompanied by attempts to provoke China into retaliatory action in contested parts of the South China Sea.
No doubt supporters of Marcos Jr. – especially the elites – will point to the billions of US dollars that the Philippines earned during the Korean and Vietnam wars during which Clark Air Base and Subic Bay served as key maintenance, repair and supply bases. They are probably rubbing their hands in anticipation of lining their pockets with the material purchases, payments to service contractors, etc. as well as the huge sums paid by the US in new military aid and to secure leases for the new bases.
But it is a different ball game that Marcos Jr. et al. are entering into with this deepened military alliance targeted solely against China. This policy move will make the Philippines among the first casualties in any conflict pitting the US and its allies against China.
Marcos Jr. should not have any illusions about what is involved in the US’s effort to maintain hegemony in the Asian region although he may have been charmed into thinking otherwise from the way that Washington has wooed him since he became president.
During his recent visit to Washington in April, he met with President Joe Biden at the White House, had brunch with Vice President Kamala Harris, engaged with members of Congress, and apparently was the first foreign leader during the Biden administration to receive full honors at the Pentagon where he met with Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin.
As a seasoned politician, he should know that there is no such thing as a free lunch or dinner from whether the White House or the Pentagon. .
He should also realize that there is no equal partnership in any promised “interoperationality”. Superficial consultation to massage the Filipino ego and for media consumption – yes. But it is the US which will call all the shots with the Phillippines simply pushed aside and regarded as a well paid and reliable flunkey and lackey.
The reality is that the US military in using the Philippines as its forward base will undertake whatever it feels necessary to bring down China. Quite apart from non-military and military action, Filipinos can draw on recent history to remember how the Philippines became a party to the U.S. Air Force spraying of 20 or more million gallons of herbicides in Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos of which at least more than half was Agent Orange whose dioxin content had a devastating impact not only on the victims of that generation but continues in those born after.
Agent Orange today is unlikely to be used as a deterrent to feature in US and allies’ military adventures in Asia. This time “interoperationality” will involve the deployment of deadly weaponry, including nuclear missiles. It is not only the US definition of “interoperationability” that the Phillippines will be subject to. That stemming from Australia’s AUKUS submarines which are planned by Australia, the US and Britain to prowl around Chinese waters in their military “interoperationability” against China is another outcome which the Philippines is inexorably being drawn to support.
Marcos Jr. and the US10 Billion Question
But perhaps the benefits that President Marcos Jr. is looking for from the “anti China” and “hate China” campaign that he has unleashed is not for his countrymen and nation. It may be more personal than any envisaged gains to the Filipino economy and national interest.
Presently there is a standing $353 million contempt order against Marcos Jr related to a US court judgment awarding financial compensation from the Marcos estate of which he is part executor to victims of human rights violations during his father’s rule as kleptocrat extraordinary and authoritarian abuser of human rights.
But much more is at stake for Marcos Jr. than just $353 million.
When his father fled into exile in February 1986, according to The Guardian in an article published when the paper was more independent, the family took with them 2 plane loads of personal effects
The official US customs record runs to 23 pages. In the two C-141 transport planes that carried them, they had packed: 23 wooden crates; 12 suitcases and bags, and various boxes, whose contents included enough clothes to fill 67 racks; 413 pieces of jewellery, including 70 pairs of jewel-studded cufflinks; an ivory statue of the infant Jesus with a silver mantle and a diamond necklace; 24 gold bricks, inscribed “To my husband on our 24th anniversary”; and more than 27m Philippine pesos in freshly-printed notes. The total value was $15m.
This was a fortune by any standards, easily enough to see the couple through the rest of their lives. Yet the new government of the Philippines knew this was only a very small part of the Marcoses’ wealth. The reality, they discovered, was that Ferdinand Marcos had amassed a fortune up to 650 times greater. According to a subsequent estimate by the Philippine supreme court, he had accumulated up to $10bn while in office.
Since his official salary had never risen above $13,500 a year, it was blazingly clear this was stolen wealth on the most spectacular scale. Some of his closest allies also stole billions. As their victim was a nation in which 40% of the people survive on less than $2 a day, the Republic of the Philippines decided urgently to try to retrieve its money.
A key source of the Marcos wealth is likely to have come from US military aid and huge discretionary funds as a “reward” for sending Filipino troops to Vietnam and permitting bases to operate from the Philippines.
Since the greater part of the Marcos fortune being disputed is currently stashed away in the US, it is easy to understand why Marcos Jr. is totally under the thumb of the US in his anti China policy.
As former Filipino congressman and activist, Walden Bello has described the US clout over the Marcos dynasty financial fortune
With this veritable sword of Damocles hanging over him, Marcos Jr., is not someone who would dare cross Washington. Indeed, when it comes to negotiating an independent path between two superpowers, he is the wrong person at the wrong place at the wrong time – which is another way of saying that from Washington’s point of view, he’s the right person at the right place at the right time.