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Philippines President Challenges Beijing’s Territorial Claims in Address to Parliament

Marcos Jr is in Australia ahead of the ASEAN summit next week.

Philippines President Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jnr told the federal parliament that his country needs Australia’s help in standing up to aggression in the Indo-Pacific.

“As in 1942, the Philippines now finds itself on the front line against actions that undermine regional peace, erode regional stability, and threaten regional success. Then, as now, we remain firm in defending our sovereignty, our sovereign rights, and jurisdiction,” he told Parliament on Feb. 29.

“I shall never tire of repeating the declaration that I made from the first day that I took office: ‘I will not allow any attempt by any foreign power to take even one square inch of our sovereign territory,’” in what was seen by most observers as a reference to as the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).

“We must come together as partners to face the common challenges confronting the region, not one single country can do this by itself,” he said, noting that Australia’s future was “irrevocably linked to the destiny of Asia.”

Stability Under Threat

“Our two countries have always understood that without the predictability and stability of our rules-based order, our region would not have emerged as a driver of the global economy as it is today,” Mr. Marcos Jnr warned.

“We must reinforce each other’s strengths. We must protect the peace that we fought for during the war and have jealously guarded in the decades since. We must oppose actions that clearly denigrate the rule of law.”

“The challenges we face may be formidable, but equally formidable is our resolve. We will not yield.”

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Philippines' President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. (L) addresses the House of Representatives at the Parliament House in Canberra, Australia on Feb. 29, 2024. (David Gray/AFP via Getty Images)
Philippines’ President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. (L) addresses the House of Representatives at the Parliament House in Canberra, Australia on Feb. 29, 2024. (David Gray/AFP via Getty Images)

Freedom of Navigation ‘Fundamental’: Albanese

International law—and countries that flout it—also figured in remarks by Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese before the president spoke.

He reiterated that both Canberra and Manila believe in upholding the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, after the two countries conducted joint naval patrols in the South China Sea late last year.

“Freedom of navigation is fundamental to our sovereignty, our prosperity, our security, and our territorial integrity,” Mr Albanese said.

“Our co-operation is an assertion of our national interest and a recognition of our regional responsibility. It reflects our shared understanding that peace depends on more than the presence of the great powers.”

The South China Sea is a conduit for more than $3 trillion worth of ship-borne commerce each year, and is a major source of tension between the Philippines and the CCP, which claims the entire sea as its own.

An international arbitration tribunal in the Hague said in 2016 that Beijing’s claim inside the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone (EZ) had no legal basis—a decision Beijing has rejected.

Australia-Philippines Sign MOU on Maritime Security

Meanwhile, Australia and the Philippines have signed a new memorandum of understanding to enhance maritime cooperation.

“We’ll collaborate even more closely to promote our shared vision of the region, including in civil maritime security, marine environment protection … and promoting respect for international law,” Prime Minister Albanese said.

President Marcos also praised Mr. Albanese’s commitment to “our vision of a world free of nuclear weapons. It is a commitment that is shared by all peoples of Southeast Asia with those of Australia and the Pacific Islander states. Through the treaties of Bangkok and Rarotonga [the] region serves as pockets of freedom from these destructive weapons.”

President Marcos is the son of the country’s repressive leader, Ferdinand Marcos Snr, and his famously shoe-loving wife Imelda.

He came to power in 2022 thanks in part to a TikTok campaign of historical revisionism around his father’s regime. He is in Australia ahead of the special ASEAN Summit in Melbourne next month, which commemorates 50 years of Australia’s partnership with the regional bloc.

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