Philippines ready to take lead in regional peace

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SCREENGRAB FROM PHILIPPINE COAST GUARD

PHILIPPINE President Ferdinand R. Marcos, Jr. on Wednesday night said his government would take a major role in keeping peace in the region amid disputes between the United States and China and nuclear threats from North Korea.

“I do not think we have a choice,” he told a media forum, based on a transcript sent by his office on Thursday. “We must play a leadership role because it is in our interest.”

“We are not doing our jobs as the protectors of our country, of our state, of our territory, of our people, if we do not take that leadership role.”

Mr. Marcos cited as a regional problem the intensifying conflict between the US and China over Taiwan. He also said North Korea remained a threat to regional peace.

The Philippine leader also cited the political situation in Myanmar, which is still in chaos after the military overthrew its democratically elected government. 

Mr. Marcos cited the need to strengthen the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) to make it more responsive to future challenges and enable the regional bloc to do more. “In the upcoming ASEAN conferences in November, I intend to propose several actions that ASEAN can take,” he added.

He said ASEAN should push its members to present a united front and ensure that the regional bloc “has a function to do in the normal scheme of geopolitics.”

The Philippine leader has vowed to pursue an independent foreign policy, while also recognizing the country’s long-standing alliance with the US. Rodrigo R. Duterte, his predecessor, led a foreign policy pivot to China away from western countries.

Mr. Marcos, 65, took office in June amid tensions in the South China Sea and naval competition among Southeast Asian countries.

In his first address to Congress, he promised to protect Philippine territories, although he did not name China as an aggressor. He neither sided with Beijing nor Washington, saying the Philippines “shall continue to be a friend to all and an enemy to none.” — Kyle Aristophere T. Atienza