What can Philippines do about China?

More than 17,000 soldiers, 12,000 of them from the US, will be involved, almost double the number from last year and the biggest contingent on record.

Australia will also send about 100 conventional and special forces personnel and, unlike recent years, when they’ve just been observers, this time they will be participants in live-fire activities, field training and the rehearsing of other scenarios.

For the first time, the US will bring with it Patriot missiles to fire as part of the exercises that will include the sinking of a vessel near the Scarborough Shoal – which Beijing seized in 2012 – with rockets and bombs.

It is only six weeks since the Philippines’ coast guard accused a Chinese ship of shining a laser at it, temporarily blinding some of its crew, in the Spratly Islands.

The incident reflected the continuing tension over territory in the South China Sea, or the West Philippine Sea as it’s referred to here. Yet while defence manoeuvring has occupied much attention in the capital, there are greater priorities for everyday Filipinos.

There has been much consternation, for example, over the cost of the government’s ambition to replace the country’s iconic jeepneys – the colourful people movers known as the “kings of the road” – lower-emission or electric buses.

Jeepneys are a popular form of public transport in Manila and something of an urban cultural icon.Credit:Bloomberg

Cost of living pressures also persist, with inflation bringing up the price of fuel and food. Marcos pledged before winning office last May that he would reduce the price of rice in the government’s subsidised Kadiwa stores to 20 pesos (about 55¢) per kilogram. He said last week it was down to 25 pesos per kilo – well below the general retail price of between 35 and 40 pesos – but scepticism remains about whether he can deliver on the promise.

Away from the rice shelves, Marcos faces a steep challenge tackling the scourge of political violence, an issue rammed home by the assassination of a sitting provincial governor this month.


In the past few weeks, authorities have also had their hands full with another threat – to the marine environment and to the health of thousands of people – after an oil tanker sank off the island of Mindoro.

Less than a year into the job, it’s fair to say the president has a lot on his plate.

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