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Manila: Protesters rallied against American presence in the Philippines on Tuesday as US Secretary of State Antony Blinken visited Manila to reinforce support against Chinese influence in the region.

The Philippines is Washington’s key security partner in Asia under a decades-long alliance, which allows the US to rotate troops into the Philippines for extended stays and build and operate facilities on Philippine military bases.

In the past two years, the partnership has expanded under President Ferdinand Marcos Jr., who in February last year permitted American troops to increase their footprint in the country.

China claims the disputed area almost in entirety and its military activity in the territory has been increasing, regularly encroaching on the Philippine part of the waters, the West Philippine Sea.

“These waterways are critical to the Philippines, to its security, to its economy, but they’re also critical to the interests of the region, the United States and the world,” Blinken said at a joint press conference with his Philippine counterpart Enrique Manalo.

“That’s why we stand with the Philippines and stand by our ironclad defense commitments, including under the mutual defense treaty.”

The 1951 agreement obliges the US to defend its ally in the case of external attack.

Philippine vessels have been regularly attacked by Chinese ships in the parts of the South China Sea that are internationally recognized as belonging to the Philippines.

American troops have been patrolling the maritime area with Philippine forces since November, despite protests from Beijing, which says the US is not a party to the maritime dispute.

“Article 4 of that treaty extends to any armed attacks on Filipino armed forces, on public vessels, on aircraft, and that would include its coast guard and that would also be anywhere in the South China Sea,” Blinken said.

As he told reporters that the two countries have seen an “extraordinary expansion” in their partnership, protesters in Manila carried banners reading: “US troops out of the Philippines,” “Blinken war criminal, not welcome,” “No to US intervention in PH and Asia.”

The demonstration was organized by civil society, including BAYAN — the Philippines’ largest alliance of grassroots groups — near the Presidential Palace, ahead of Blinken’s meeting with Marcos.

BAYAN said in a statement that Marcos was “advancing the geopolitical interest of the US in the region” and “offering the Philippines as an extension” of the US military network.

“The country’s assertion of sovereignty in the West Philippine Sea against China’s aggression should not involve the opportunistic meddling of a former colonizer whose real motive is to preserve and expand its imperialist hegemony in the Asia-Pacific,” the group said.

It also drew attention to Gaza, where Washington’s other key ally, Israel, has killed over 30,000 Palestinians in daily airstrikes and land assaults since October.

BAYAN said the US was “the main supporter and enabler of the ongoing genocide in Palestine” and was “actively fanning proxy wars and conflicts in various parts of the world.”