‘Ukraine of Asia’: pro-Duterte coalition slams Philippines’ involvement in US ‘proxy war’ with China
Supporters of former Philippine president Rodrigo Duterte have formed a coalition opposing the country’s growing alliance with the United States in its conflicts with China, which they warn is becoming a “proxy war” that could turn their nation into “the Ukraine of Asia”.

At the end of the launch event for the Citizens’ Coalition Against War in Manila on Wednesday, the group released a petition calling for signatures supporting an end to the proxy war as well as a manifesto criticising the government’s position on the Second Thomas Shoal, a highly contested maritime landmark in the South China Sea that the Philippine refers to as Ayungin and Beijing calls Ren’ai Jiao.

The coalition, led by Herman Tiu Laurel, founder of the Philippine-Brics Strategic Studies think tank and board chairman of the Association for Philippines-China Understanding, objected to the Philippines defending its territorial rights over the shoal, saying: “The Ayungin incidents have been described as Chinese ‘aggression’, but appear to be a valid response to the US-BBM EDCA military ‘provocations’.”

BBM refers to President Ferdinand Marcos Jnr’s nickname “Bongbong” while EDCA is the abbreviation for the Enhanced Defence Cooperation Agreement, which the Philippine government signed with the US, allowing the latter’s troops to have a rotational presence inside Philippine military facilities.

US President Joe Biden meets Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jnr on September 22, 2022. Photo: AP
The incidents referenced in recent months involved Chinese maritime vessels disrupting – through the use of water cannons and other “grey zone” tactics – missions by Philippine forces to deliver supplies and building materials to the BRP Sierra Madre, a World War II era navy vessel that was purposefully grounded on the shoal to strengthen Manila’s territorial claims to the area.

The coalition’s petition states: “We strongly reject, as the world must reject, the false narrative that China has acted as ‘a naked aggressor’ in these non-lethal incidents. To begin with, China has been circumspect in making sure that no weapons of war were used, and there were no fatalities in these unfortunate incidents.”

The text of the petition also argues that the United States’ “pivot to Asia” strategy – aimed at strengthening Washington’s bilateral security alliances with a number of countries in the continent – “has led to the escalation of tensions in the region, using the Philippines, among others as a strategic pawn in its dangerous game”.

One of the speakers at the event, Anna Malindog-Uy, claimed that other countries now perceived the Philippines as being well on its way to becoming “the Ukraine of Asia”.

Malindog-Uy, who describes herself on her Facebook page as a doctoral candidate in economics at Peking University, acknowledged that “the Philippine’s strategic location makes it a pivotal player in any potential military conflict in the Asia-Pacific region, particularly in the context of rising geopolitical tension between the US and China”.

However, the Philippines should not take sides if war should break out since the conflict would be “American-orchestrated”, she said.

“Why should we allow the Philippines to be dragged into a conflict which is not of its own making and where it should not take part,” she argued.

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Why is the Philippines aligning itself with the US after years of close China ties under Duterte

Why is the Philippines aligning itself with the US after years of close China ties under Duterte

Duterte’s former spokesman, Harry Roque, also spoke against the presence of US troops at Philippine military facilities, saying these were “a threat to our security because with their presence the country becomes a target by other countries opposed to the US”.

Former president Duterte himself vowed in a recent interview with Chinese state-run news agency Global Times that should he ever succeed in removing Marcos Jnr from the presidency, he would remove the EDCA bases.

During his time in office, Duterte shifted the country’s foreign policy towards closer alignment with China and away from the US. He recently revealed that he had made a handshake agreement with Chinese President Xi Jinping to maintain the “status quo” in the South China Sea, including refraining from missions to reinforce the BRP Sierra Madre’s position on the Second Thomas Shoal.

Roque had also raised the so-called gentleman’s agreement between Duterte and Xi, and suggested China’s aggressive actions towards resupply missions to the shoal were because it felt the Marcos Jnr administration had violated the unwritten pact made by his predecessor.

Although Duterte was highly popular during his time in office, his rants against America and his threats to eject the EDCA bases and scrap the 1951 US-Philippine Mutual Defence Treaty apparently did little to dent most Filipinos’ positive perceptions of the US, which has long been an ally to their country.

A survey by private pollster Pulse Asia conducted in December 2022 showed that 84 per cent of 1,200 Filipino respondents wanted the government to work closely with the US to assert its sovereignty over the West Philippine Sea – which includes the country’s exclusive economic zone and other features such as Thitu island in the South China Sea that Manila considers part its maritime territory.

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