Thinking Beyond Politics


The much-awaited trilateral summit among the Philippines, United States, and Japan finally took place last Thursday, April 11, at the White House in Washington DC. The top-level meeting could not have happened at a better time — just when the Philippines is facing increasing aggression from China in the West Philippine Sea.

On the day before the summit, President Ferdinand Marcos, Jr. and United States President Joseph Biden met and agreed to strengthen their security and economic partnership. During the one-on-one, President Biden reaffirmed the ironclad commitment of the US to the defense of the Philippines, as embodied in the Mutual Defense Treaty of 1951.

Moreover, Mr. Biden requested the incorporation of an additional $128 million for infrastructure projects in the nine sites of the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement for fiscal year 2025. Five sites were originally designated in 2016, but four more were added last year. The additional funding will enable the sites to become hubs for humanitarian assistance, disaster relief, and other crisis responses.

During the summit proper, the three leaders issued a joint statement that it was a gathering of equal partners united by the vision of a free and open Indo-Pacific and a rules-based international order. Together with Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, Mssrs. Biden and Marcos expressed serious concerns on the increasingly aggressive behavior of China in the West Philippine Sea.

Japan and the US reiterated their support for the Philippines’ 2016 victory before the Permanent Court of Arbitration. Security and stability in the West Philippine Sea, they said, has direct effects on the economic security of the Indo-Pacific region.

Meanwhile, China has continued to dismiss the arbitral body’s decision and its jurisdiction over it, even as it is a party to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). It has also used different tactics in justifying its acts in the West Philippine Sea, twisting the Philippines’ legal victory and the basis for such, even modifying its claim of a nine-dash line into a 10-dash line.

During the summit, President Marcos Jr. called the United States and Japan our friends and partners.

On the following day, the US and the Philippines held an inaugural 3+3 meeting, consisting of the top State/Foreign Affairs, Defense, and National Security officials of the two countries. US Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken, Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III, and National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan, Philippine Secretary of Foreign Affairs Enrique Manalo, Secretary of National Defense Gilberto Teodoro, and National Security Advisor Eduardo M. Año discussed the situation in the South China Sea and underscored the interest to increase support for the modernization of the Philippines’ armed forces.

In these perilous times, complicated by the situation in the Middle East, what does such a summit mean for the Philippines and for its people?

First, we have the US’ and Japan’s word. There have been countless instances where these like-minded nations and their leaders have expressed their commitment to the rules-based order. But now that there is an actual case of threat and doublespeak from China, which is even claiming to abide by the law, it is reassuring to think that the lofty principles we speak of will be put into practice. We are, indeed, in good company.

Of course, we will not stop at mere pronouncements and reiteration. Concrete actions such as increased assistance or joint activities are all tangible manifestations of our friends’ commitment.

This is not about any single player, or the supremacy of one power or two or several. Rather, what we are asserting is the supremacy of the rules-based international order that every nation, big or small, commits to uphold.

The Philippines is proud to belong to the community of nations that recognizes the supremacy of international law and lives by the values that ensure balance, security, respect, and prosperity. This community will certainly not tolerate any attempt to upset the order.

Citizens of all nations have the right to security, to sleep soundly at night, trusting that their way of life would not be disrupted or that they would wake up to find their territory usurped by another country.

Economic security is just as important, because without the assurance that they would have enough to eat or have all their basic needs covered, people will also not feel safe enough to go about their daily existence. Thus, support in the form of investments from other countries will go a long way in generating a virtuous cycle that upgrades infrastructure, empowers people, improves their quality of life, and gives them dignity.

Finally, while there are numerous multifaceted threats, traditional, nontraditional, and emerging, that confront the Indo-Pacific region, the more important thing is that there are also numerous avenues for cooperation to address and meet these threats head-on.

The just-concluded trilateral summit gives us reason to be optimistic, albeit with caution. We are always grateful for our friends and partners.


Victor Andres “Dindo” C. Manhit is the president of the Stratbase ADR Institute.