Encourage new leader to cooperate with Japan, U.S. for regional stability

The Philippines has contributed to the stability of the Asia-Pacific region as a member of the liberal democratic camp. So that its new administration does not move closer to Beijing, Tokyo and Washington together must encourage Manila to work with them.

In the Philippine presidential election, Ferdinand Marcos Jr., a former senator, appeared to have won election by defeating his rivals in a landslide. He will likely take office on June 30.

His success was apparently because he promised continuity from outgoing President Rodrigo Duterte, who enjoys overwhelming popularity among Filipinos.

During his six-year term in office, Duterte conducted hard-line operations with his war on drugs in which people seen as suspicious were killed without any judicial process. Although his stance has been strongly criticized in the international community as a violation of human rights, many Filipinos reportedly appreciate Duterte, as they consider him to have helped improve the country’s security.

Voters who seek continuity in strong leadership are believed to have cast their ballots for Marcos.

He is the son of the late Ferdinand Marcos, who established a dictatorship in 1965 and was toppled in the People Power uprising in 1986. The younger Marcos used social media to appeal to young people who have no direct knowledge about his father’s rule, touting the economic development of that time as one of his father’s achievements.

During the election campaign, Marcos did not discuss his policies, as he shied away from debates with candidates and interviews with the press. This is reportedly because he wanted to avoid facing questions over the crackdown on dissidents under the dictatorship and the accusations that his family illegally amassed wealth at that time.

The strategy to improve impressions people have of Marcos turned out to be successful, but questions remain as to whether he provided voters with necessary information during the campaign.

While Marcos has served as a governor and a lawmaker, his diplomatic skills are unknown. He once supported the Duterte administration’s conciliatory policy toward China as the only option for his country.

Duterte has not brought up the ruling issued by the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague that rejected all aspects of China’s sovereignty claims in the South China Sea, emphasizing economic relations with Beijing instead. The outgoing president pushed back against criticism from the United States over human rights abuses in the Philippines, at one point even expressing his willingness to review the alliance between the two countries.

If the new administration takes over its predecessor’s policies and shows a stance that could reject the rule of law and the world order led by the United States, the Asia-Pacific region could be destabilized.

During telephone talks with Marcos, U.S. President Joe Biden stressed Washington’s commitment to strengthening its alliance with Manila, while also cautioning the incoming Philippine president to respect human rights.

Japan and the United States have been cooperating in helping the Philippine Coast Guard boost its capabilities. It is important to continue strengthening ties with the Philippines as a partner to aim for a free and open Indo-Pacific, while at the same time pointing out any issues with the new administration.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, May 13, 2022)