Interview by President Ferdinand R. Marcos Jr. at the Lowy Institute

Event Lowy Institute Speaking Engagement
Location Lowly Institute, Melbourne, Australia

DR. MICHAEL FULLILOVE AM: Well, Mr. President, thank you very much. Thank you for— first of all, thank you for paying the audience the compliment of giving a speech that was substantive, that was direct, and that was memorable. And a speech that will be closely read in capitals around the world.

Thank you for plugging the Asia Power Index, my colleagues at the Lowy institute appreciate that.

And thank you for agreeing to take some questions from me and also from our audience.

Let me start by asking you about the theme of sovereignty and territorial integrity.

In your speech today you said— you talked about actions in your part of the world were provocative, unilateral and unlawful. You said, we shall never surrender even one square inch of that territory and maritime jurisdiction.

And last week in your speech to the parliament, you sounded that theme too. You said, as in 1942, the Philippines now find itself on the frontline and you said the challenges that we face may be formidable but equally formidable is our resolve, we will not yield.

Now, these are powerful words and the world has noticed how you have been more assertive than your predecessor in countering Chinese actions to block your fishermen from accessing their fishing grounds, to intimidate Filipino maritime forces.

Why is this so important to you? Why have you taken this stance?

PRESIDENT MARCOS: Well, I took an oath and in that oath I— the oath is to support and defend the constitution of the Republic of the Philippines.

And the first article of our constitution is the definition of our territory, maritime and otherwise.

And this have been validated over very many years. The original definition actually of our boundaries were laid out on the treaty of Paris, after the Spanish-American war.

And since then, that definition, if you want to call it that, has been validated by many actions by—for example by United States, by UNCLOS, and the baselines agreements that we have had.

And it has been recognized as sovereign territory of the Philippines.

And therefore, it was not— in my view, when I came into office, we simply have no choice, we must defend the territory of the republic. And that is a primordial duty of a leader.

And that’s why we have taken a strong, a very strong position, in that we cannot allow a unilateral decision made by some foreign capital faraway to somehow amend, or to change those definitions in terms of our territory.

So, what— we will do whatever it takes to maintain that situation. Wherein it is very, very clear that the territorial integrity of the Philippines cannot be threatened. And if threats are made, then we must defend against threats.

It’s— for me, it’s almost— as I said, it wasn’t a matter of policy choice, it is the duty that I took on when I came into office and that’s— I continue to see it that way and I think that every Filipinos sees it that way.

And they depend and they expect their leaders to fulfill that duty. To be true to their oath, to defend the republic and its territory, and its people.

DR. MICHAEL FULLILOVE AM: Let me ask broadly about the people of the republic of China, what kind of Nava would you like if [unclear] to be?

PRESIDENT MARCOS: Well, until the declaration of the changes now of territorial definitions. We still have friendly relations with China but these issues never arose. And I would not mind very much at all if we could return to that same situation now, where we deal with each other as neighbors. We deal with each other and help one another.

But the Philippines was the first country in Asia to foster diplomatic relations with the People’s Republic of China. That agreement was signed in 1976 and I happen to have been part of the original delegation in 1974– to an official delegation but it was an invitation from then Premier and Foreign Minister Zhou Enlai and it was to open the discussions on having diplomatic relations with China because we see, we recognized immediately that China is an important neighbor, is an important partner and that we must deal with such an important neighbor and such an important partner.

The relations that we have with China go back way beyond 1976, they go way beyond that for centuries. We have been trading with China. The evidence of–archeological evidence shows that we have been trading with China for about 600 years now.

If we’re to examine DNA, there are very few Filipinos with no Chinese DNA. My family actually makes much of the fact that we were actually–we have within our family tree, an infamous Chinese pirate who used to operate within the waters of the then, South China Sea. So, that cannot be discounted. And that has always been in our– as part of our thinking as we look to China.

But however, I supposed the modern world has brought about different forces, brought about different policies that they have undertaken and– but it is of course, every country’s prerogative to define what their policies will be but I think even the powers [unclear] will understand that it is as I said, our duty to continue to defend the sovereignty of the Republic of the Philippines, and its territories, its sovereignty, its sovereign rights, its people and its territory.

DR. MICHAEL FULLILOVE AM: Alright, let me ask you about a different relationship that between the Republic of the Philippines and the United States of America. And again, there’s been a change under your presidency, a more— greater openness, a warmth I would say towards Washington and some changes in terms of access to bases and so on.

What kind of a role do you want to see Washington playing in the Indo-Pacific?

PRESIDENT MARCOS: Well, I think the— what the Americans are doing in the Asia Pacific right now is really a reaction to the developments in terms of the approach has taken, as regards to again, territorial rights.

We have a very special relation with the United States, they are— well, actually there are only two countries which we have a visiting forces agreement, number one is the United States and the second one is Australia.

But with the United States we have had for decades now, for decades passed a— and the agreement in that mutual defense treaty is that a declaration of war to one country is the separation of war to the other.

And that has maintained and that has been there since very soon after the Second World War.

And I think that role, we maintain that role for the Americas. And I think that it still serves as a stabilizing force, somehow. And it still manages to be a force for the good.

We need for it to continue to be a force for the good, we cannot allow it to overtake, as I said in my remarks, to overtake what the essential priorities of the Philippines.

And I always wanted to make it clear, because there is a narrative out there that is going around that we are at the beck and call, practically, of the United States when it comes to these foreign policy decisions, especially surrounding the South China Sea. But let me make it very, very clear.

The Philippines acts for its own interest, and the decisions that we make when it comes to foreign policy are decisions that we make because we believe, and are convinced, and know that it is in the national interest.

It is not a policy that we— that has been foisted upon us by any country, it is something that we have come to on our own, it is a conclusion that we have arrived at by ourselves, and we have acted upon those conclusions that we have made.

So, it really goes back to a rejection by the Philippines of the— a regression into the old bipolar cold war formula. Wherein the smaller countries such as the Philippines were basically forced into choosing, you choose to be with the United States, so with the Soviet Union.

And in a way it is a simpler time and it was easier perhaps for countries to make that decision. That is no longer relevant. That no longer applies.

The world has turned very, very many times since then and we define our foreign policy really very simply.

Our foreign policy is grounded and anchored on the continuing promotion and work for peace, and the continuing promotion and work for the national interest of the Philippines.

And that is what guides us, that is the principle that we follow, and I think it is the right one.

DR. MICHAEL FULLILOVE AM: Let me ask you about the thing that you were discussing, the rights and prerogative of smaller countries in the region. The powerful that you make in your remarks today is we can’t shrink Asia to the dimensions of great power competition within United States and China that there are many countries in our region and all of us deserve a place in the sun and none of us wants to live in the shadows of one big country. You said we need that to be active participants, not observers. Do you think other countries in the region are rising to that challenge? Are they being active participants in each national relations or they have simply observing the great power competitions?

PRESIDENT MARCOS: If we are talking about Asia, ASEAN, Indo-Pacific as well. I cannot think of an example where people are just standing idly by and watching events go on, evolve without taking any action. Because the world being what it is now is so interconnected. It is impossible to find a global event or international event, no matter where it is, that does not affect you, your country, your people.

It’s just a simple example, when Russia entered Ukraine, we in the Philippines, we’re saying “Well, that is not a good development.” but it shouldn’t affect us at all. It is very far away. We are quite mistaken thinking that because within weeks, the effects of– for example, the fertilizer prices, the loss of supply chains, the interruption in the supply chain suddenly– our economies greatly suffered by that.

Again, when the attacked on October 7 of Hamas into Israel. Again, neither of them are all producing so it shouldn’t bother the oil prices which is something of course, we all look at to see what the [unclear] are. And we were once again mistaken because, yes, Gaza does not produce any oil, neither Israel but the implications of that increasing conflict has now hit all of us because of what’s happening in the Red Sea, what’s happening in the rest of Middle East, what’s happening between Iran and the United States. So, it is–it would be foolish for any country to just be a passive observer.

If we are truly attend to the interest of our countries and our people, we must be engaged. We must be part of the discussion. And we must hopefully be part of the solution.

DR. MICHAEL FULLILOVE AM: I’m going to ask you one more question and then I’m going to give the audience or a couple of members of the audience an opportunity to put a question to you.

Let me ask you about Australia and AUKUS because you made a point of mentioning AUKUS and you said, AUKUS will enhance regional stability. Why do you think that is the case? Why are you pro-AUKUS and what sort of role in the Indo-Pacific do you want to see Australia playing?

PRESIDENT MARCOS: Well, I think it follows just a very simple basic principle, that a collision, because it has a larger base is a much more robust in resisting any kind of unilateral move by any other country, and AUKUS being another one of this partnerships or alliances that have been formed, I think strengthens the position of Asia, of ASEAN, of the Indo-Pacific if we are— once confronted with challenges and threats.

And that’s why for our part in the Philippines, as President, I have tried very hard to foster those partnerships and those alliances. Because we need for example, I hold very great hope for ASEAN to be a central player when it comes to resolving those issues.

We cannot— the Philippines, we know we cannot resolve this alone, we know that we cannot do this by ourselves, we need the synergy that’s provided by these alliances and partnership.

And in a way, it’s a good thing that it seems to be— the general consensus amongst ASEAN member states and Asian countries. And when I say Asian countries, I now include Australia, I have included always Australia in that discussion.

That is a general consensus that this is the best way to maintain the peace, it is the best way to maintain stability, to keep the South China Sea as a peaceful and vibrant part of international trade, and continue with our transformation into the new post-pandemic global economy.

AUDIENCE: Thank you very much. Very much appreciation to your honesty and clarity. It is our great honor to hear you speak.

Just curious whether you saw a future for ASEAN to be similar to NATO that when one person’s aggression of one state would also trigger a response by the other state as potential future of ASEAN?

PRESIDENT MARCOS: Well, ASEAN, this is something of course that we have tried to look at and we have to also recognize that despite the fact that we are a very long-standing geopolitical aggregation in ASEAN.

There are very many– there are clearly commonalities, that’s why we have come together under the umbrella of ASEAN. Nonetheless, there are many differences as well and the approach that each country takes is in form by their own particular needs and concerns. And that complicates the ability for us to come up with a single, central position or statement of position. And it’s not something– we are–we must not–if we feel that they have not been robust enough in their support, in their calls for more action then–we should not really begrudge them that because each state has its own interest.

What we are looking for is simply, a very simple foundation and that is the rule of law, UNCLOS. And I think if we just abide by that, that is sufficient. Every country has all kinds of arrangement with the people’s republic.

The Philippines as well. We cannot exclude the Philippines from that. Certainly, we too. There are great many Chinese investments in the Philippines. There are great many Chinese nationals in the Philippines. There are great many–what we now referred to as Chinese-Filipinos born who are born in China. So, this impact everything that the Philippines is doing, but in like fashion, in impacts what every other country in ASEAN is also doing.

DR. MICHAEL FULLILOVE AM: This lady in the middle of the third row, if you just [unclear] the microphone madam.

AUDIENCE: Good afternoon, Mr. President.

PRESIDENT MARCOS: Good afternoon.

AUDIENCE: Your visit to both Canberra and Melbourne really signifies your commitment to strengthen the bilateral relations between Filipinos and Australia. And we admire your strong foreign policy.

Now, my question is what would be your message to Filipino-Australians in Australia and the Philippines to actually deepen those people-to-people links on [unclear] level?

PRESIDENT MARCOS: Well, I would really just start any response to that by saying, our nationals who have come to work and live the 400,000 now, who have come to work and live in Australia, have done as proud.

And the raising of our relationship to a strategic partnership, I think is just almost an evolution of what our OFWs, we refer to them as OFWs, Overseas Filipino Workers, the OFWs in Australia.

And the very close— the very fine relationship that they have come to have with Australians, and so, all of these more— shall we say formalized, agreements that we are doing with Australia now, are really based on that. The people-to-people relationship that has been established by Filipinos in Australia.

We could not— I do not think that if the Filipinos came to Australia and committed crimes, and were really not contributing to the society, to their community, or would not assimilate into their communities, then we could not do this.

But we— you— the Filipinos in Australia have in fact managed to do that and that’s why we have the ability now to come to Australia and say, look this is what we are doing— our people are already doing with each other.

So, we might as well formalize it and there are now new challenges that we need to address and we can build— that’s what we build upon.

And so, if there is a message to Filipinos in Australia, “Thank you. Thank you very much for burnishing the image of the Philippines in Australia. Keep up the good work.” [applause]

DR. MICHAEL FULLILOVE AM: Ladies and gentlemen, I know there are others who want to ask questions but we ran out of time this afternoon.

President Marcos, thank you again for speaking to us. It was a rare privilege to hear from you. I’ve learned a lot tonight including the value of clear thinking but also, I did not know that you had a pirate in your ancestry. [laughter]


DR. MICHAEL FULLILOVE AM: And I might say that it sounds more fun and romantic for you to have a pirate in yours and the convicts I have in mine. [laughter]

PRESIDENT MARCOS: I’m sure it wasn’t fun at that time. His name was Limahong. I think many people from the Philippines and China know all the notorious pirate from— who used to operate the Northern Philippines. That’s where we come from, my family comes from so, he must have landed one day and… [laughter]

DR. MICHAEL FULLILOVE AM: These guys of course were against piracy in the region [laughter] but Mr. President, we hope that your meetings of the next day or two are fruitful.

Let me just say I know you were in Canberra last week, you’re in Melbourne this week, if you happen to be in Sydney next week, [laughter] please come and visit us at the Lowy Institute.

Ladies and gentlemen, please join me in thanking President Marcos. [applause]

PRESIDENT MARCOS: Thank you. Thank you very much. [applause]