Philippines: June 2024 Update


June 22, 2024: The Philippines is facing numerous problems in 2024, as it deals with the territorial disputes with China in the South China Sea, the persistent threat of terrorism and insurgency, and changes caused by the 2022 the presidential election made Ferdinand Bongbong Romualdez Marcos Jr. the new leader. Nicknamed Bongbong, the new president was the son of an ousted prior Filipino president.

Bongbong was a populist reformer who delivered on his campaign promises to reform the laws that made it difficult for Filipino farmers to make a living. Bongbong also upgraded and reinforced the armed forces, as well as military alliances with the United States and local nations that were also threatened by China.

The Philippines has increased its military presence and activities in the South China Sea, especially around the Spratly Islands and Scarborough Shoal, where it claims sovereignty over parts of the disputed waters and features. The country has also received support from its allies, such as the United States, Japan, and Australia, in conducting joint exercises and patrols, as well as providing military assistance and equipment. However, China has also intensified its operations and use of coercion in the region, deploying more ships, aircraft, and missiles, and building new structures and facilities on the artificial islands it occupies. The risk of miscalculation and escalation remains high, as China continues to ignore a 2016 ruling by the international Permanent Court of Arbitration that China has no legal claims on any part of the South China Sea, especially those that are legally controlled by the Philippines as part of their sovereign territory according to international law. China had previously agreed to abide by these terms but would deny knowledge of any previous agreement when the Philippines resisted Chinese aggression in the South China Sea.

The Philippines continues to deal with some problems with terrorist groups, such as the Islamic State-affiliated Abu Sayyaf Group and the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters. These two groups had been much reduced after years fighting Filipino soldiers, marines and special operations forces. These two groups were no longer much of a threat and spent most of their time just trying to survive. The communist New People's Army, or NPA, was even more diminished and in most of the country was a dim memory and in the few places where NPA still operated, they were regarded as bandits with political pretensions.

The Moslem resistance in the south had been settled by the 2019 Bangsamoro Organic Law, which granted greater autonomy and representation to the Muslim-majority areas in the south, as part of the peace agreement with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, the largest rebel group that renounced violence and joined the political process. By 2023 Islamic terrorists and communist rebels were much less active because there were a lot fewer of them and there was much less popular support. The government received record high approval ratings from the voters even as local and foreign critics accuse the government of atrocious behavior.

The Philippines has maintained a balance between its alliance with the United States and its economic ties with China. The Philippines reaffirmed its commitment to the Mutual Defense Treaty and the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement with the United States, which provide for mutual defense and security cooperation, as well as access to military bases and facilities. The country has also welcomed the U.S. support for its maritime claims and rights in the South China Sea, as well as the U.S. sanctions against Chinese officials and entities involved in the disputes. However, the Philippines has also sought to improve diplomatic relations with China, which is its largest trading partner and a major source of investment. The Philippines sought to manage and resolve the territorial disputes through dialogue and diplomacy, rather than confrontation and arbitration, as it did in 2016 when it won a landmark case at the Permanent Court of Arbitration that invalidated China's expansive claims in the South China Sea.




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