Activists criticize US, China military moves in Philippine seas

By Joseph Bernard A. Marzan

On Monday, April 22, local progressive groups protested actions by the United States and China in the Philippine maritime zones, particularly amid tensions in the South China and West Philippine seas.

The organizations urged the administration of Ferdinand Marcos Jr. to uphold national sovereignty, prioritize independent defense policies over the South China Sea disputes, and reduce dependence on the U.S. military.

Elmer Forro, secretary-general of Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (BAYAN) Panay, likened the Philippines to a battleground for Beijing and Washington’s ambitions, neglecting Philippine interests and paralleling U.S. involvement in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

“We condemn these acts because the Balikatan exercises simulate a war between China and the United States. We will become the proxy or the victim, of their fight for control over Asia,” Forro said.

Melbert Baybado from PAMALAKAYA highlighted that small-scale fisherfolk, who depend on the western coastal fisheries, would bear the brunt of such conflicts.

“Fisherfolk are the first and foremost affected by this conflict. When the bombs arrive, it will be forests and fisheries which will suffer. Our call is for China to leave our country, and for Balikatan exercises to stop,” Baybado said.

Kabataan Partylist’s Jose Paolo Echavez critiqued the increased defense budget, which has not translated into tangible modernization for the Armed Forces of the Philippines, noting that the EDCA (Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement) sites have become a contentious issue due to perceived insufficient compensation for U.S. military presence.

“The increase in budget had the modernization of the AFP as its priority. But have we seen the results? We can see that the rifles, fighter jets, and boats remain secondhand. Aside from that, the EDCA sites have become hot topic in the Senate because the rent or the cost of accommodating US forces in the Philippines are virtually free,” Echavez said.

Anakbayan Panay’s Matt Gonzaga argued that investment in the defense budget, including the mandatory ROTC program, diverts critical funds from education, equating the budget to thousands of potential new classrooms.

“The youth are being pushed to enter a mandatory ROTC program to prepare for this anticipated war between the Philippines and China and is being intruded by the United States. We are against this, because the youth are being seen as bullets for the interests of the United States,” Gonzaga said.

“In pushing for the mandatory ROTC, they have funding of up to P61.2 billion, which is equivalent to 24,480 classrooms. The government has funds for war but not for education. That is why we are against it,” he added.

The groups have long advocated for the abolition of the Philippines’ bilateral military agreements with the U.S., such as the Visiting Forces Agreement, the EDCA, and the Mutual Defense Treaty.

They also called for an end to the annual ‘Balikatan’ military exercises, which commenced on the same day with about 16,000 Filipino and American troops, and observers from multiple countries.