“We need a good president to do this.”
April 9th was the 80th commemoration of ‘Araw ng Kagitingan’ (Day of Valor), a day when 76,000 Filipino and American soldiers were forced to surrender after the heroic defense of Bataan from Japanese imperial forces. Over 20,000 prisoners died in the infamous 150-kilometer Bataan Death March. This episode in World War II is seen as a strategic event that bought time for the allies to regroup and re-engage in battles that stopped the Japanese in the pacific and eventually turned the tide of the war.
On April 8, 2022, just a day before this historic holiday honoring the heroes of Bataan, the Philippine and US military celebrated the success of ‘Balikatan 2022’, the biggest joint military exercise that mobilized approximately 9,000 participants in exercises along the northern coast of Luzon and Palawan. For the first time, US Army Patriot missile systems were engaged in amphibious exercises in the Philippines. This record-breaking magnitude of the Balikatan exercises sends a strong signal to the Chinese and the littoral states of the South China Sea on US policy.
Fighting as brothers in arms galvanizes a profoundly strong bond that all soldiers and their allied nations tend to nurture, which in the case of the Philippines and the United Stated has further deepened into a relationship that has not been perfect but nevertheless endured and remains strong for generations.
In the recent international virtual forum hosted by think tank Stratbase Albert del Rosario Institute (ADRi) in partnership with Bower Group Asia (BGA) themed “The Future of US Commitment: The Outlook Under Biden and Beyond”, experts discussed the evolving dynamics of the US foreign policy in Southeast Asia. The event launched the book titled, “Elusive Balances: Shaping U.S.-Southeast Asia Strategy” by Dr. Prashanth Parameswaran, Deputy Head of Research of BGA, a Fellow of the Wilson Center, and Senior columnist of The Diplomat.
Dr. Parameswaran’s analysis translates the importance of ASEAN to Washington while taking issue on some “unlike-minded” states such as Cambodia and Laos which are very vulnerable to Chinese influence. He said that the Biden administration needs to manage threat perceptions, such as its symmetric and asymmetric competition with China as countries in Southeast Asia want to maintain relationships with China for the sake of coexistence and resource constraints. He thinks that if the next Philippine president will be like Duterte who tried to shift the foreign policy on US alliance that there will a huge loss of opportunities.
BGA President and CEO, Ernest Bower IV, said that although the Biden administration has announced its Indo Pacific Strategy and Indo Pacific Economic Framework, engagement in Southeast Asia has been a bit slow and will need more appreciation of the economic components which are most important in the region.
James Carouso, Australia Chair of the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) and BGA Senior Advisor said that “the pressure from China, especially against countries like Vietnam and the Philippines because of the South China Sea issue, should be an area where there’s greater cooperation between the US and the Philippines to understand what’s the nature of the threat and what do we do about it.”
He pointed out that unlike the post-World War II global order where everyone is supposed to abide by the rules and smaller countries could feel some assurance, the South China Sea, the US invasion of Iraq, and the invasion of Ukraine has changed the rules to “no rules”.
As an ally of the US, how then should we respond given the scenario of Putin’s war in the Ukraine spilling over the NATO countries which Biden repeatedly says not one inch will be lost to Russia?
ADRi president, Prof. Victor Andres “Dindo” Manhit in his statement during the forum said that “as part of an interconnected and networked international society, the Philippines must develop a more responsive and strategic foreign policy that will effectively contribute to the ongoing efforts to collectively manage global and regional issues.” He believes that the Philippines should utilize its expansive network in securing the freedom of the seas and to counter the aggressive behavior of China.
“Fostering multilateral and strategic partnerships is imperative if the Philippines is to recover from the consequences of the current administration’s foreign policy decisions and be rightly aligned with the growing global alliance advancing a free and open Indo-Pacific,” he said.
With only 28 days before election day, we must vote for leaders who will adopt a rectified foreign policy that will put a stop to the persistent Chinese incursions and continuing plunder and destruction of the maritime resources in our exclusive economic zone. Multilateral cooperation with like-minded countries is key to the protection of national interests and the stability of the region.
We need a president who will honor the legacy of our heroes.