Is the Philippines truly free and independent?

AS the Philippines marks its 126th Independence Day, many Filipinos, myself included, are questioning whether we truly embody the ideals of independence and sovereignty. Under the current Philippine regime, do we genuinely reflect these principles amid the pervasive influence of the United States on our political landscape and foreign policy? Are we merely a proxy or pawn in the US-China geopolitical rivalry in the Indo-Pacific and beyond? Our struggle against the shadows of authoritarianism, the abuse of power and authority, rampant corruption and a foreign policy beholden to the United States raises significant doubts. Additionally, the suppression of freedom of expression, assembly and the press, coupled with a struggling economy, further challenges our claim to true freedom, independence and democracy as a nation in this post-modern age.

These questions deserve some form of introspection among the Filipino people, and all Filipinos from different walks of life must reflect on and ponder these realities. It’s a moment for all Filipinos, regardless of their background, to deeply reflect on what independence, democracy and freedom truly mean in our current sociopolitical and economic context, and our relations with other countries in the Asia-Pacific region and beyond.

Freedom and independence

Indeed, Filipinos celebrated the momentous occasion of our 126th Independence Day last Wednesday. We paid tribute to our Motherland, the Philippines. It was not just a day of celebration but a time for deep reflection on the true meaning of freedom, independence and democracy in the face of the significant challenges our country is currently grappling with. No doubt, the essence of our so-called freedom and independence is being tested like never before.

If one reflects and observes with a keen mind and eye the current political landscape of the Philippines, one will see that the shadow of authoritarianism/dictatorship looms over our democratic institutions, threatening the very freedoms our forefathers fought for. The suppression of press freedom, the right to free assembly and freedom of expression stifle the voices that strive to hold power accountable, transparent and advocate for change. Corruption continues to undermine our progress, diverting resources and opportunities away from the people who need them the most.

Moreover, the events that unfolded in Davao City on June 10, 2024, against the Kingdom of Jesus Christ, will be etched in the memories of Filipinos and the people of Davao City as a profound assault on Philippine democracy. This tragic period was marked by an egregious display of brute force and the blatant abuse of power, executed at the behest of those in power. It stands as a stark reminder of the vulnerabilities that Philippine democracy is faced with these days.

Sovereignty

Moreover, it is timely to ask whether we are truly sovereign as a state when our foreign policy and the current Philippine regime are heavily influenced by foreign powers like the United States, particularly through the presence of US-EDCA bases alongside other military and defense agreements and arrangements with the US, with an economy that struggles to provide a better life for every Filipino. This raises questions about our true sovereignty, national integrity, and the direction of our national and foreign policies.

On June 10, 2024, President Marcos delivered a statement saying that the Philippines should be prepared as more external threats arose due to heightened geopolitical tension in the Indo-Pacific.

Marcos was addressing the Philippine Army’s 5th Infantry Division (ID) last Monday at Camp Melchor de la Cruz in Gamu, Isabela. Marcos said the Philippines’ location — near Taiwan, a region of significant geopolitical tension — puts the country in China’s area of interest, potentially making it a focal point of any conflict in the region. Thus, it is important that the northern part of the Philippines is prepared for any eventuality, he added. Marcos said the 5th ID’s mission now covers territorial defense from external threats. The 5th ID, a key component of the Philippine Army, is responsible for defending the northern part of the country, including the region near Taiwan, from potential external threats. Though Marcos did not name China as a reference point for the so-called external threat to the country, it is implied that he referred to China.

In the context of Marcos’ statement, the Filipino people must understand that the Taiwan issue is an internal matter for China. Taiwan is an inalienable part of China, and because the Philippines respects and upholds the One-China policy, we should not involve ourselves in this issue. We must not allow the Philippines to be used by third parties, like the US, to interfere in what is clearly a domestic and internal matter for China. If the Marcos administration adheres to these principles and genuinely respects the One-China policy, we have nothing to fear; we have no problem with China regarding the Taiwan Strait issue.

However, if the current Marcos administration allows the US to use our military bases under the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) as launch points against China over Taiwan, it would be a perilous decision and a grave mistake. This would essentially mean that the Philippines is playing with fire. The Taiwan issue is a red line for China; crossing it could ignite military conflict in the Asia-Pacific. This is a matter of utmost importance for Filipinos to grasp and understand with eyes wide open.

To genuinely avoid entanglement in the Taiwan Strait issue, the Philippines under the Marcos administration must recalibrate its foreign policy toward one of true neutrality and independence. This approach should not be influenced by any foreign power and must stand as a testament to our independence, freedom and sovereignty, particularly from our former colonial master, the United States. This necessitates the removal of both de jure and de facto US-EDCA bases, especially those situated near and facing the Taiwan Strait.

Adopting such a strategic move would help insulate the Philippines from the volatility and potential conflicts in the Taiwan Strait. This prudent approach is essential for securing the country’s independence, sovereignty and national integrity, preventing it from being used as a pawn or proxy by the US in the Asia-Pacific. It would also avert the risk of being dragged into a military conflict with a superpower like China, stemming from the Taiwan Strait issue.

But the real challenge and test is whether Marcos Jr. has the courage and the balls to take this step. Honestly, I have my doubts, and I am skeptical. But it would be a pleasant surprise to be proven wrong.

Conclusion

Reflecting on our history, it is imperative for Filipinos to recognize the present realities and align themselves with the right side of history. We must rally to protect our flag and nation from further decline and the threat of a war that does not serve our interests and does not benefit us. Our responsibility is to ensure a secure and prosperous future for the next generation, and to strive earnestly for a genuinely better, independent, sovereign and genuinely free and democratic Philippines.

Source: The Manila Times
https://www.manilatimes.net/2024/06/15/opinion/columns/is-the-philippines-truly-free-and-independent/1951563

Prof. Anna Rosario Malindog-Uy

Prof. Anna Rosario Malindog-Uy is a Ph.D. Candidate at the Institute of South-South Cooperation and Development (ISSCAD), Peking University, Beijing, China. She is currently a director and the Vice President for External Affairs of the Asian Century Philippines Strategic Studies Institute (ACPSSI), a think tank based in Manila. She also serves as the political/geopolitical analyst of ACPSSI. Currently, she is a Senior Researcher of the South China Sea Probing Initiative (SCSPI) and a Senior Research Fellow of the Global Governance Institution (GGI). She is also the President of Techperformance Corp, an IT-based company in the Philippines. Prof. Anna Uy taught Political Science, International Relations, Development Studies, European Studies, Southeast Asia, and China Studies. She is a researcher-writer, academic, and consultant on a wide array of issues. She has worked as a consultant with the Asian Development Bank (ADB) and other local and international NGOs.