Country Listing

Philippines Table of Contents


External Defense

The Philippines perceived no serious threat of external aggression in 1991. The reduction in the Soviet naval and air presence in Vietnam and a more benign Soviet foreign policy had eased fears of involvement in superpower contention. Although some Filipinos were wary of the growth of Japanese military capabilities, Japan was not seen as a near-term threat.

The Philippines had two territorial disputes in 1991 that had national security implications. The first concerned a shallow section of the South China Sea west of the Philippine archipelago containing some small islands that were part of the larger group of Spratly Islands. Referred to as Kalayaan by the Philippines, it is a rich fishing area that had been identified as a potential source of petroleum deposits (see Relations with Asian Neighbors , ch. 4). The Spratlys, however, were claimed in toto by China, Vietnam, and Taiwan, whereas Malaysia laid claim to parts of the continental shelf underlying the southernmost islands in the chain.

The Philippine government first put forth informal claims to Kalayaan in the mid-1950s. In 1978 Marcos made formal claims by declaring that fifty-seven of the islands were part of Palawan Province by virtue of their presence on the continental margin of the archipelago. The Philippine military, which first occupied three of the islands in 1968, continued to garrison marines on several islands. China, Vietnam, and Taiwan also occupied several islands. Although the Chinese and Vietnamese navies clashed in the Spratlys in March 1988, as of 1991, the Philippines had not been involved in any military confrontations over the islands.

The other territorial dispute involved the Malaysian state of Sabah on northern Borneo. In 1962, when the British-administered territories of Sarawak and Sabah were incorporated into Malaysia, the Philippines notified Britain of its claim to Sabah on the grounds that it formed part of the Sultanate of Sulu and had only been leased to British traders beginning in 1878. When Malaysia was formed in 1963, the Philippines established diplomatic relations but then immediately broke relations over the Sabah issue and did not reestablish them until 1969. Marcos publicly renounced the claim to Sabah in 1977, but Malaysia insisted that total renunciation required a constitutional amendment. The issue was clouded by ties between Muslims in the southern Philippines and Sabah, and by Philippine allegations--denied by Malaysia-- that Sabah afforded sanctuary to Moro rebels.

Data as of June 1991