Washington wobbles; Tokyo steps up; Manila makes itself matter

Manuel L. Quezon III
5 min readApr 11, 2024


Two takes on summitry and the foreign and domestic dimensions of the Philippines’ participation

Philippine Tetrarchy: President Ferdinand R. Marcos Jr., First Lady Liza Araneta Marcos, Speaker Ferdinand Martin Romualdez, Ambassador Jose Manuel Romualdez show the flag in Washington. The president perfotms, his wife pencil-pushes, his first cousin maneuvers, and his uncle plots.

Yesterday had two sides of the same coin: the upcoming Tripartite (Tokyo-Manila-Washington) Summit at the White House. In a special for The Asia Sentinel, I tackle the summit from the point of view of the incumbent president and the foreign and domestic dynamics surrounding his visit. Similarly, my column zeroes in on manner the Philippines has situated itself in a time of uncertainty over Washington’s ability to summon the resolve to maintain leadership in the region.

I. In the Asia Sentinel Yesterday



By: Manuel L. Quezon III Princeling in the Middle

In every administration, there is always factional competition for influence. This is particularly intense in the formative period of the campaign. At a time of coalition formation, the time-honored Philippine political dictum that “politics is addition” applies, and for the enterprising, this is the time to put words in the candidates’ mouth, betting on the candidates’ inattention or unwillingness to be divisive, at such a crucial time.

There is the personal: “[Marcos is out] to prove that… obviously the… family are not what people have made or pictured them to be.”

There is an awareness of foreign affairs as a dimension of domestic politics: “He [Marcos] would like very much to have a good relationship with China but at the same time he is mandated by the Constitution to protect our territorial integrity.”

And there is a recognition of institutional imperatives: “the Philippines has gone through a lot of domestic political upheaval in recent memory but nonetheless we kept a strong alliance with the United States through and through over the past three or four decades even after the American’s permanent bases were abolished in the early-1990s.” This includes coalition-building: “We’re now in discussions with both the United States and Japan — and even Australia is now coming into the picture — so it might end up as a [Quadrilateral] agreement. I think that’s all a very good development for us because we are not leaning on just one country like the United States.”

Indeed he has been. And this accounts for the ferocity of Chinese press releases against him.

Romualdez’s columns, which he has continued writing from Washington, can be considered to provide weekly talking points for the Philippine position-and its performative martyrdom -that is an expression of the quintessentially Filipino approach to nationhood and an effective counter to Chinese “tiger diplomacy.” It has certainly left Beijing in a quandary.

The China syndrome

Since all politics is local, the geopolitical divide is therefore reflected in the growing divide in the ruling coalition elected in 2022. As Marcos has rebuilt, then expanded, ties with old allies while cultivating new ones, the case for China is being made by his predecessors Macapagal-Arroyo and Duterte -as well as the president’s eldest sister, Senator Imee Marcos. And there lies a tale.

If all politics is local…

The Marcoses are not as monolithic as most people imagine. There may be family solidarity when they are down and out, but once in power, the family itself is as liable to be as faction-ridden as any other Philippine clan. It is now conventional wisdom that the mother and elder sister of President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. got their comeuppance when Marcos’s wife, a high-powered attorney named Liza Araneta (herself from a cadet branch of a prominent landowning clan the Marcoses previously married into), gave the Marcos matriarch and elder sibling their comeuppance by excluding them from the inner sanctum of the Marcos presidential campaign -a comeuppance because she’d been ostracized by the two before and after her marriage. This may have led to Imelda Marcos finally meeting her match in her daughter-in-law, and Imee Marcos finding herself edged out as well. But the First Lady being Visayan, and thus inclined to have a more proprietary interest in her ancestral region, means she has found it useful -even necessary-to form a faction with the other Romualdezes.

Manuel L. Quezon III is a Filipino writer, former television host, and a grandson of former Philippine president Manuel L. Quezon

II. This week’s The Long View:


Philippine Daily Inquirer / 04:30 AM April 10, 2024

Some weeks ago in an informal conversation, a Chinese Filipino gentleman from the older generation shook his head about the backward state of our national infrastructure and suggested, “We should allow China to take over building our infrastructure.” I laughed and only half-jokingly replied, “Be careful what you wish for. If the Mongols conquered China and became culturally Chinese, you might find the Chinese taking over here and becoming Filipino instead. Then where would they be?” The old gentleman laughed, saying “I never thought of it that way.”

On April 11, the President will materialize in Washington at the invitation of United States President Joe Biden, to engage in summitry with Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, who is in Washington at the conclusion of a state visit. The optics of the summit will be interesting because it really marks the debut of our President as chief diplomat; the optics of his previous visit were less about the present or the future as it was a kind of dynastic “mission accomplished”: the restored heir in the footsteps of the patriarch. That the host was an American president who, as an American senator, had helped neutralize then President Ronald Reagan’s steadfast support of the elder Marcos, added to that moment of dynastic validation.But this time, the dynastic checklist’s boxes have been ticked, and debts to the patriarch’s memory duly paid. This time, it’s Marcos Jr. who matters and increasingly so, both for the West and East Asia if not, as much, for Asean. His increased, even increasing, importance, the product of not only getting expert advice but listening to it, suffers from one limitation, which is uncertainty over American resolve. The onset of the presidential campaign in America means the lasting nature of any presidential commitment is only as good as that president’s term of office, but American institutions are still resilient enough to be binding in terms of policies already in place: such as, as the White House recently described the coming agenda for talks between the two leaders, “efforts to expand cooperation on economic security, clean energy, people-to-people ties, and human rights and democracy.” This is the kind of benediction that can be lasting, even from an incumbent who could suffer defeat in November. Japan for its part, broke with precedent when its prime minister chose not to offer a ritual apology for World War II when addressing the US Congress, a bold symbolic move following even bolder policies such as embracing arms exports (with South Korea now increasingly a strategic partner, both nations promise to be the most crucial Philippine partners for military modernization, for example), as it emerges from America’s shadow to assert leadership in the region.

Originally published at https://mlq3.substack.com.



Manuel L. Quezon III

Columnist, Philippine Daily Inquirer. Editor-at-large Spot.ph. Views strictly mine. I have a newsletter, blog, podcast, and Patreon.