The Guardian • Issue #2090

Marcos Jr. addresses Parliament amid protests

Rally outside of Parliament.

Rally outside of Parliament.

The president of the Philippines, Ferdinand “Bongbong” Romualdez Marcos Jr addressed parliament on 29 February 2024. Coming a week before the 2024 ASEAN-Australia Special Summit, this address served as an opportunity for both countries to affirm their deepening geopolitical and security ties.

Marcos Jr. took the occasion as an opportunity to hold forth on the South China Sea dispute, committing to “not allow any attempt by any foreign power to take even one square inch of our sovereign territory”, referring to China. The president described the Philippines as “on the frontline against actions that undermine regional peace, erode regional stability, and threaten regional success.” The  President also praised the August 2023 provocative bilateral military exercises conducted by Australia and The Philippines’ militaries, and the security deal signed between both countries in September.

The address drew a crowd from a collection of human rights and community organisations from around the country, who gathered to speak out against Bongbong Marcos and his administration’s abuses of power.  Spokespeople and activists accused the Filipino president of presiding over widespread extra-judicial killings, rampant corruption and suppression of organised labour.  Frequently repeated were comparisons of the current government of the Philippines to that of Marcos Sr., the infamous dictator who presided over a period of martial law, from 1972 to 1981.

In parliament there was a show of solidarity from Greens Senator Janet Rice who disrupted the speech by displaying a sign reading “stop the human rights abuses”.  She joined protesters shortly after being escorted out of the building, defiantly describing what had just happened, to widespread cheers and applause from the crowd.  The Senator was later censured by the senate, through a vote supported by the Labor and Liberal parties.

Additionally, there were speeches from Greens Senators David Shoebridge and Jordan Steele-John, who both raised concerns about the geopolitical and social implications of the deepening ties between the Australian and Philippines governments. Senator Steele-John criticised the complicity of the Australian government with atrocities, not just in the Philippines but also in the ongoing genocide in Gaza. Senator Shoebridge built on those themes drawing a connection between the day’s events , the AUKUS deal, and placement of American bombers on Australian soil. 

The Philippines-Australia relationship was framed by speakers as a part of the broader project of maintaining US influence in the region, with one activist describing the parliamentary address as Bongbong Marcos’s opportunity to swear fealty to America via its regional puppet, Australia.

By comparison, the reception from the leaders of the major parties was consistently positive. Earlier in the week, an article from Human Rights Watch called the Marcos visit  “an important opportunity for Australia’s leaders to address well-documented human rights abuses in the Philippines.” Instead, both the Prime Minister and Leader of the Opposition heaped praise on the relationship between the two countries, with no mention of human rights.

The Guardian can also be viewed/downloaded in PDF format. View More