Ever since the President Duterte became president, he has shown a constant heart throb for all things China for the Philippines. He opened almost all the economic doors to them in various infrastructure projects where large numbers of Chinese workers, not Filipinos, built roads etc. China sent them millions of doses of the Covid-19 vaccine, which albeit, is less effective than others and one most Filipinos are suspicious of. Duterte, like Trump, had a love affair with China (Trump's affair was with Russia) and basically kowtowed to China's will despite the fact they have taken several islands within the Philippines zone, clearly violating all national borders etc.
Most Filipinos realize that they are too small to thwart China's bully tactics but their sense of national pride remains strong and from early on the Duterte presidency, most did not agree with being too accommodating towards China. Yet, the president did just that despite critics. He turned away from the USA in favor of China and because of that most of the South China Sea, including some territorial waters belonging to the Philippines is under they control.
However, the pendulum has now swung back in favor of the USA because China's use of their "gray fleet" of large fishing boats that are raping the undersea life for resources and food for the Chinese. Philippine fishermen cannot challenge these much larger ships that are quasi-militia because they are armed in some cases and there have been hundreds of them strewn in waters owned by the Philippines. Their Coast Guard ships are no match for the Chinese and are reluctant to challenge them. President Duterte's reaction to all this is akin to," What can I do? We are a small nation against a world power".
The Last Straw
Just recently, China sent its large quasi-militia fishing trawlers to Scarborough Reef and declared that this mostly uninhabited atoll was theirs. They did this years ago to Mischief Reef, near the Philippines, Palawan Island. Now its a major military base for them.
Scarborough is within the Philippine's economic zone and in their national waters, it is not far from Manila. With the handwriting on the wall, many in the government wanted Duterte to stand up to China once and for all. Many Senators were outraged when their president seem to kowtow again to China that he calls their "Big Brother". One senator was so outraged that he told China publicly to, "Get the fuck out of the Philippine sea". China scoffed at him and told him to control his temper.
There is a backlash against Duterte's pro-China policy and now a majority want to request assistance from the USA. Some want to invoke the defense treaty between the two countries which would allow US military access to military bases etc. The USN had a huge base at Subic Bay up until 1990. Most Filipinos are much more pro-USA than their president is. Many in the government are now willing to stand up to China's tactics finally by asking the US for military assistance and aid, aligning with other SE Asia countries to enlist their support as a group to face off with China. Even Duterte, seeing how the pendulum has swung due to this latest Chinese takeover, agrees (reluctantly) that a US presence in the region would be in everyone's best interest.
The only solution is clear. The Philippines should re-align itself with the US and request military assistance. The USN could use their old base at Subic Bay. The airforce could base F-35's on Palawan, which is close to Mischief Reef. Additional well armed Coast Guard ships could be provided. The USN frequently sails through the South China Sea, despite Chinese warnings. If the USN and others were to send their warships and carriers into the area, especially, Scarborough, and simply "park" for a few days, China would get the message. The Chinese taking of Scarborough should not be allowed to develop into another military base so close to the shores of the Philippines. A radar station on Scarborough Shoal will immediately complete China's radar coverage of the entire South China Sea. China can then impose an air defense identification zone in the South China Sea. That means China will grab 80 percent of Philippine exclusive economic zone and 100 percent of Philippine extended continental shelf in the West Philippine Sea.
China's interest in this whole area is about two things: natural gas and oil reserves deep under the ocean that are large. Of course, having control of the shipping routes through the area is important in times of disputes or conflict. While it is too late to take back many of the Philippine islands that China seized, the line should be drawn at Scarborough. Having joint US-Philippine naval patrols in the area has been proposed by the US, this would be one fast solution.
Pressure mounts on a reluctant Duterte.