Under President Marcos, Manila is keen to strengthen the country’s maritime security capabilities and improve its defence network in the region
Although the expansion of EDCA sites to a total of nine locations indicates a crucial breakthrough for the alliance, questions remain about this decision’s potential implications for Philippine foreign policy and Southeast Asian security.Since his inauguration as the Philippine president, Manila and Washington have been engaging regularly in high-level meetings. Marcos and US President Joe Biden have already met twice in New York and Phnom Penh. Moreover, senior US officials including Vice President Kamala Harris, Secretary of State Anthony Blinken, and Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin have also visited Manila. In addition, an official state visit by Marcos to the US this year is currently being planned. Furthermore, to support Marcos’s intent to improve the country’s maritime security capabilities, Washington donated maritime tactical gear and other critical equipment worth US$ 196,000 to the Philippine Coast Guard in August 2022 and provided Manila US$ 100 million in foreign military financing in October 2022. The overt desire of Marcos to reinvigorate the treaty alliance presents a stark contrast to his predecessor former President Rodrigo Duterte’s wariness towards the US. Such developments have also encouraged Washington to explore more areas of strategic cooperation with Manila. In fact, the April 2023 iteration of the annual Balikatan exercise with the US will not only be the largest version of the bilateral military exercise but will also include novel boat-sinking drills between the Filipino and American troops. This provides a practical dimension to the alliance at a time of rising traditional and non-traditional security threats. Thus, the expansion of EDCA sites also clearly reflects Manila’s renewed interest in forging stronger security ties with Washington. Under the Marcos administration, the Philippines has also demonstrated its willingness to bolster its coordination with the US hub and spokes system in the Indo-Pacific. During his visit to Japan in February 2023, Marcos and Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida signed a bilateral defence agreement that will serve as an opportunity for Japan to increase its strategic presence and collaboration with the Philippines. In the same month, Australian Deputy Prime Minister and Defence Minister Richard Marles also visited the Philippines and stressed that Manila and Canberra were also looking at ways to spearhead joint naval patrols in the South China Sea.
The overt desire of Marcos to reinvigorate the treaty alliance presents a stark contrast to his predecessor former President Rodrigo Duterte’s wariness towards the US.For Manila, therefore, the intended purpose of the EDCA expansion centres on improving the Philippines’ deterrence and territorial defence against an increasingly assertive China and reaping the benefits of a strengthening alliance with the US. However, the competitive and uncertain nature of international politics creates difficulties in assessing the short-term and long-term implications of particular foreign policy decisions vis-à-vis other neighbouring powers.
Within the Philippines’ domestic political landscape, several prominent figures have also voiced their concerns regarding the potential negative impacts of the decision to expand the scope of the EDCA.Within the Philippines’ domestic political landscape, several prominent figures have also voiced their concerns regarding the potential negative impacts of the decision to expand the scope of the EDCA. In his interview in the SMNI programme, Duterte expressed his concerns about how an expanded EDCA may be used to benefit US interests rather than the Philippines’. In a similar vein, Senate foreign relations committee chairperson Imee Marcos, on 1 March, also stressed the negative security implications of the decision of the Philippine government to increase the number of sites of the EDCA. Senator Marcos noted that a majority of the sites chosen will be in northern Luzon, which is quite close to Taiwan. In fact, the Philippines’ northern island of Itbayat is only approximately 149 kilometres from Taiwan. The senator then asked whether the expansion of EDCA will be more geared towards enhancing the Philippine territorial defence in the West Philippine Sea or enhancing the US position at a time of a shooting war with China over Taiwan. Consequently, such developments may damage Manila’s relations with Beijing further and draw the former deeper into a war over Taiwan.
Consequently, such developments may damage Manila’s relations with Beijing further and draw the former deeper into a war over Taiwan.Recognising the growing challenges brought by a rising China, Marcos has sought to leverage its traditional strategic ties to complement his vision for a more secure Philippines. It is against this backdrop that the decision to expand the EDCA can be understood. However, Marcos has simultaneously highlighted how a lasting solution to the maritime dispute can only be achieved through diplomatic negotiations. Hence, Manila seeks to continuously manage and stabilise ties with Beijing by keeping diplomatic channels open and expanding economic cooperation. In this light, it was reported on 30 March that both countries have decided to resume discussions on possible joint oil and gas ventures in the West Philippine Sea, though this does not mean that the Philippines should not pursue its legitimate security interests at a time when the region’s security architecture continues to witness great turbulence. It can, thus, be expected that Philippine foreign policy will face more arduous challenges given the unfolding implications of the contemporary alterations to the region’s strategic equations.
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Don McLain Gill is a Philippines-based geopolitical analyst author and lecturer at the Department of International Studies De La Salle University (DLSU).Read More +