Philippine-U.S. war games threaten China

Protest in Philippines against Balikatan military exercises, April 11, 2023.

U.S. threats and efforts to blockade China are moving aggressively forward. Once again, they directly violate the constitution and sovereignty of a country forced to participate. The latest U.S. aggression involves new U.S. bases and military actions that began in April in the Philippines. 

They follow a week of U.S. military maneuvers and base-building in Guam; amphibious landings in South Korea, involving 28,000 Korean and U.S. sailors and marines; and combined anti-submarine warfare exercises of U.S., Japanese and South Korean forces. 

In the same week, in direct violation of U.S.-signed agreements recognizing Taiwan as part of China, a bipartisan group of U.S. congressional representatives met in California with Tsai Ing-wen, the so-called president of Taiwan, to pledge heightened U.S. military support.

Starting on April 11 and scheduled to last until April 28, the largest ever military exercise is underway in the South China Sea. These confrontational “war games” are called Balikatan, meaning “shoulder-to-shoulder.” Annual exercises have been the cornerstone of Philippine-U.S. military relations, since a mass movement demanded and won the closure of U.S. bases in the Philippines. They are a way to continue U.S. imperialist penetration of the Philippine military.

The 2023 joint military exercise has expanded to nearly double the past years’ size. This year 18,000 troops are participating in the exercise, over 12,000 of them U.S. forces.

International protests in the Philippines and the U.S. opposing Balikatan 2023 have denounced this provocation. There were protests in Quezon City and Camp Aguinaldo, the headquarters of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), just hours before the exercises began; along with protests in Times Square in New York City; Washington, D.C.; and San Francisco. Online teach-ins and webinars are planned.

Violation of sovereignty 

Based on a powerful mass movement in the Philippines, the 1987 Philippine Constitution explicitly prohibits foreign military bases in the country. Article XVIII, Section 25, of the Constitution states that “foreign military bases, troops or facilities shall not be allowed in the Philippines except under a treaty duly concurred in by the Senate and, when the Congress so requires, ratified by a majority of the votes cast by the people in a national referendum held for that purpose and recognized as a treaty by the other contracting State.”


U.S. officials therefore avoid using the word “base” to describe known military sites. Instead, they now refer to having “access” to military sites and being “strategic partners” with the Philippine military.

Filipino opposition

Nina Macapinlac of BAYAN USA, a U.S.-based chapter of BAYAN, explained at the Times Square rally: “The Balikatan war games are a violation of Philippine sovereignty and a dangerous provocation of China. . . . We oppose U.S. military intervention in the Philippines and reject the puppetry of ‘Bongbong’ Marcos to the U.S. There is no doubt this is a build-up to war in the Asia Pacific . . . to stoke the flames of world war. There is no doubt that we, the Filipino people, will fight tooth and nail to defend our sovereignty!”

“The Balikatan war games are double trouble: a violation of Philippine sovereignty and a dangerous provocation of China,” said Pyxie Castillo of GABRIELA USA. 

A statement from GABRIELA to the international community declared: “In the name of maintaining and expanding its control and power over resource-rich territories, the U.S. has consistently instigated wars all over the world, with the help of its allies and the puppet governments in its neocolonies. These wars have resulted in the rape and deaths of millions of women, youth and children and LGBTQ+ and in further destitution of the toiling masses.”  

GABRIELA Philippines is a grassroots alliance of more than 200 women’s organizations, institutions and programs in the Philippines.

Marcos vulnerable to U.S. pressure

The current president of the Philippines, Ferdinand Bongbong Marcos Jr., is especially vulnerable to U.S. pressure. He knows the U.S. government has frozen the assets of governments and officials in countries around the world and could easily freeze the billions of dollars in stolen monies that are the basis of his family fortune. 

Marcos Jr.’s father was the brutal Philippine dictator Ferdinand Marcos Sr., who ruled the Philippines from 1965 to 1986, with martial law imposed in 1972. Marcos Sr. was overthrown and fled to Hawaii following a revolutionary mass uprising, called the People’s Power Revolution, in 1986. The Marcos family stole from $5 billion to $10 billion. This vast fortune is hidden in U.S. and other international banks. 

In addition, Marcos Jr. has a long-standing contempt order worth $353 million, issued by the District Court of Hawaii in 2011, based on a $2 billion judgment ordering reparations for human rights abuses under the Marcos Sr. dictatorship. The U.S. State Department has assured him he would not face arrest while president, despite the outstanding warrant. Marcos knows that seizure of his family’s vast stolen wealth and the U.S. contempt order and fines could be imposed if he defies U.S. demands. 

Surrounding China

The Philippines is the largest recipient of U.S. military aid in the Indo-Pacific. The Philippine archipelago, comprising 7,600 islands, lies just south of the island of Taiwan, a province of China, and touches the South China Sea. 

The Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) between the United States and the Philippines, implemented in 2014, says that the U.S. military can store weapons and build and operate facilities at “agreed locations” provided by the Philippine military. This duplicitous wording effectively places U.S. arms and operations within Philippine military camps or bases. 

The EDCA agreement allows U.S. access to Philippine bases for joint training, pre-positioning of equipment and building of facilities. On Feb. 1 four new U.S. military bases, euphemistically labeled “New EDCA Sites,” were announced. There are five other known U.S. military sites, bringing the total number of known U.S. bases in the Philippines to nine. 

There are 259 U.S. military bases in the Pacific now threatening China, along with a vast array of aircraft carriers, destroyers, battleships, nuclear submarines and the weapons pumped into Taiwan.

Both Democrats and Republicans are overwhelmingly in support of new sanctions, increasing arms, expanding U.S. bases and intensifying threats against China. In the past, powerful mass actions in the Philippines have forced U.S. bases and U.S.-backed dictators out of the country. The current demonstrations opposing U.S. military actions and relentless base-building show the way forward. 

Protests are planned for April 27, the anniversary of the signing of EDCA. 

To learn more about the National Month of Protest check out:

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