Filipinos have voted overwhelmingly in favour of independence from the Philippines, but the country’s two main opposition parties have vowed to keep their campaign against independence alive.
The vote in Sunday’s referendum has been hailed as a triumph for democracy and the people who voted, and the Philippines remains at the forefront of the world’s most populous country, with more than 300 million people.
But it comes as a major setback for the ruling Communist Party, whose former leader, Benigno Aquino III, is widely seen as a key figure in the vote.
He is said to be among the most popular leaders in the world, with his party’s support rising from 27% in 2009 to 51% in 2018.
“The government has to show that it will take a clear stance against the secessionist movement,” said Jose Maria Sison, president of the Philippine National Electoral Council.
“The Philippines has been at the centre of the international community for more than a century.
The world cannot afford to let the Philippines fall further behind.”
The opposition said the government had failed to respond adequately to the demands of the secessionists, who said the country should become an independent country under the jurisdiction of the United Nations.
In a statement, the Democratic Action Party (DAP), which led the vote, said the result was a “historic defeat” for Aquino and his party.
Its leader, Senator Grace Poe, has also vowed to continue fighting for the country.
She said the defeat of the referendum was not a sign that the country was headed for a “complete break with the United States”.
“The only way to secure our country’s independence is to reject the US’ proposal to split the country into five autonomous states,” she said.
Poe, who was born in the US, has said she has no plans to leave the Philippines to become a citizen of the US.
However, she has also spoken out against the Philippines being drawn into a “strategic conflict” with China, saying the country would be “a much better ally” if it is independent.
The government said its stance was not influenced by the secession vote, which it said was based on international law.
But Aquino, who is believed to have helped orchestrate the referendum, called it a “despicable, criminal, and illegal” exercise of the right to self-determination.
It is also the latest in a series of high-profile events to bring about the dissolution of the Philippines’ close ties with the US in recent years.
An earlier vote in 2018 to dissolve ties with Washington sparked an international outcry and a diplomatic row between the two countries.
More than 1.6 million Filipinos, including 1.4 million in the Philippines themselves, voted to sever ties with their former allies, triggering an international row.
Despite the tensions between Washington and Manila, the Philippines has remained a close ally of the West in recent decades, hosting several US presidents and the US military.
This year, the Philippine government announced a deal to build a new military base in the Pacific island of Palawan.