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MANILA: Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. said on Thursday he would seek to tighten ties with the US after President Joe Biden called him with congratulations on winning the Philippine presidential election.

Biden was one of the first world leaders to acknowledge Marcos’s victory in Monday’s poll. While counting is still underway, the son and namesake of the late Philippine dictator secured more than half of the votes.  

Biden called Marcos on Thursday morning.

“Marcos was grateful for the acknowledgment of his victory by the American president,” the Philippine president-elect’s office said in a statement, adding that it “could be one of the most important messages for his incoming administration.”  

“The two leaders spoke of strengthening of ties in trade and diplomacy, as well as their common interest in democracy, self-determination, economic recovery.”

Marcos also invited Biden to attend his inauguration on June 30 to “further fortify the relationship of the two countries.” The Philippines had tried to distance itself from the US, its former colonial master, during the presidency of incumbent Rodrigo Duterte, who had embraced a Beijing-friendly direction.

But while Marcos and his running mate, Duterte’s daughter Sara Duterte-Carpio, have vowed to follow his key policies, including the position on China, Washington may have leverage on the new Philippine ruler who spent years of exile in the US.

Marcos’s father ruled the Philippines with an iron fist for two decades — an era marred by widespread corruption and human rights abuses — and was removed from office in a popular uprising in 1986. After his ouster, the family fled to Hawaii on US helicopters.

Following Biden’s call, the White House issued a statement saying that the US leader “looks forward to working with the President-elect to continue strengthening the U.S.-Philippine Alliance, while expanding bilateral cooperation on a wide range of issues.”

The Philippines is one of the oldest Asian partners of the US and a major non-NATO ally. The alliance is anchored on the 1951 Mutual Defense Treaty, which commits Washington and Manila to extend military support to each other if either of them is attacked by an external party.

Manila sought to be less dependent on the US under Duterte’s rule. But Ramon Casiple, the executive director of the Institute for Political and Electoral Reform, said this was likely to change with Marcos.

He told Arab News that Biden’s congratulatory call indicated that the US acknowledged Marcos’s electoral win, even though official results have not yet been announced, because of the US “experience during the Duterte years” and the geopolitical situation following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, which has placed China on the opposite side to the US.

“The US is making a pragmatic decision,” he said. “This new situation, if you listen to the US intelligence report to the US Congress, basically opened a new era. It’s like a new Cold War.”

He added that Washington-Manila relations were likely to be smoother, but on US terms.

“Because Marcos is not the one dictating the base of this relationship. If the US thinks that they need to be on the good side with Marcos, meaning from the point of view of the China problems that the US has, then they would be very accommodating to Marcos.”  

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