Marcos Jnr’s sister says China planning to target Philippine sites, is Imee Marcos ‘warmongering’?

Philippine Senator Imee Marcos has made explosive claims about plans by China to target sites across her country with hypersonic missile strikes. However, observers say her comments are politically motivated and Beijing would be unlikely to risk such an attack even if it has the capabilities.

The senator, who is also the sister of President Ferdinand Marcos Jnr, made the allegations in a video posted to TikTok and Facebook.

“I’m really scared because while tensions are brewing in the West Philippine Sea, I saw [reports] about China’s plans to use hypersonic missiles,” she said in the clip, which was posted late on Tuesday.

She went on to say that 25 areas in the Philippines were targeted in the plans she saw, including the island of Batanes and Subic in Zambales, where the country’s new Brahmos missiles systems had been deployed, and the Ilocos region, the venue of annual Balikatan joint military drills between American and Filipino soldiers.

“It’s really scary. That’s no joke,” she added.

Senator Marcos also expressed concern that the United States could not prevent such attacks.

“Other countries have this thing called the Iron Dome, which prevents missiles from entering. But when it comes to hypersonic missiles, it could enter easily. Everything will be crushed,” she said.

The senator did not provide any evidence for her claims, but argued that China was targeting the Philippines because of its growing military ties with the US under her brother’s administration.

In February last year, Marcos Jnr gave the US access to nine military sites across the country under the Enhanced Defence Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) between the two countries to boost his country’s defensive capabilities and ability to respond to natural disasters.

Colonel Francel Margareth Padilla, a military spokeswoman, told reporters they took the senator’s concerns seriously.

We are not aware of any of the security threats she mentioned
Jonathan Malaya, director general of National Security Council of the Philippines

“We are ready to coordinate with Senator Marcos to obtain details and take appropriate actions to ensure our nation’s security,” Padilla told reporters on Wednesday.

Jonathan Malaya, director general of National Security Council, downplayed Senator Marcos’ statements, saying the government saw “no threat of any imminent attack” from China.

“We are not aware of any of the security threats she mentioned,” Malaya said.

Manila and China, according to Malaya, even “reaffirmed their commitment to de-escalating tensions in the West [Philippine] Sea” during a bilateral consultation meeting that was held in Manila on Tuesday, the same day that Senator Marcos posted her video.

Responding to the hypersonic missile allegations, China’s Foreign Ministry released a statement on Thursday saying China was “committed to peaceful development and defensive policy” and did not know where the senator got her information.

Political motivations

Froilan Calilung, a political analyst at the University of Santo Tomas, told This Week in Asia that Senator Marcos’ claim could have been motivated by concerns for her country’s safety given rising tensions in the South China Sea and Manila’s alliance with Washington.

“Her statement could be highlighting close military ties with the US,” Calilung said.

Senator Marcos is known to be close to Sara Duterte, the daughter of former president Rodrigo Duterte and her brother’s vice-president.

The Marcos family and Duterte clans became political allies for the 2022 election, but recent months have seen the families engaging in bitter public feuding, with Sara recently resigning from her positions in Marcos Jnr’s cabinet amid speculation she would take the role of opposition leader.

Former president Duterte was known for having a more China-friendly approach to foreign policy than his successor, Marcos Jnr, who has issued many strong pronouncements on the dispute in the South China Sea, promising to not cede “even one square inch” of Philippine territory to a foreign power.

Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jnr (right) stands beside his sister Senator Imee Marcos after he delivers his second state of the nation address in July 2023. Photo: AP

Calilung said the senator’s warning might be meant to position herself as a “defender of national sovereignty and cautioning us against becoming too entangled with US-China tensions.”

“This may resonate with a domestic audience that is wary of foreign influence and military escalation,” Calilung said.

Attack unlikely

Asked whether the senator’s claims about plans for hypersonic missile strikes are possible, Calilung said China had military capabilities but questioned whether Beijing would really contemplate such an attack since it would carry enormous political and economic risks.

“To dispel that it’s just warmongering, the senator’s claims should be backed by concrete evidence. Otherwise, this will really create urgency and fear and in a way will sway public opinion against current policies. It’s a direct assault on the policies of her brother,” he said.

Soldiers participate in annual Balikatan exercises. Photo: Jeoffrey Maitem

Calilung also noted that such an attack would almost certainly trigger the Mutual Defence Treaty between the Philippines and the US, which obliges both sides to help each other in the event of an attack by an external power.

“Theoretically, I would say China could target the Philippines if it chooses to escalate militarily. That’s why it’s a matter of decision. The question here, will they do it? China knows that once they do it, it will be the end of it all. Meaning that will be a full-scale war. Is China prepared to risk everything?”

Jose Antonio Custodio, a defence analyst and fellow at the Consortium of Indo-Pacific Researchers, told This Week in Asia that Senator Marcos was fearmongering due to her pro-China position and alliance with the Dutertes.

Naturally, Custodio said, the president’s sister would question and cast doubt on the Philippines-US security relationship as it ran against her benefactor Beijing.

“As China is stealing our territory and exclusive economic zone, it’s already expected that they are targeting our existing military bases, so what else is new?” Custodio said.

“However, should they choose to launch an attack against EDCA sites and Philippine bases, they will be met with the full force of American and allied military responses which are totally superior to them and which will result in their defeat,” he said.



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