Defense chief seeks Philippine-US treaty review

Jaime Laude - The Philippine Star
Defense chief seeks  Philippine-US treaty review
Lorenzana stressed the need to review the treaty given the ambivalent stand of the US on the country’s maritime domain and territorial issue in the West Philippine Sea.
State Department Photo by Michael Gross

MANILA, Philippines — Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana wants a review of the provisions of the 1951 Mutual Defense Treaty (MDT) with the United States.

Lorenzana stressed the need to review the treaty given the ambivalent stand of the US on the country’s maritime domain and territorial issue in the West Philippine Sea.

In a yearend press briefing at Camp Aguinaldo yesterday, Lorenzana said it is about time both countries look into the provisions of the MDT, given the mounting security concerns in the South China Sea.

In calling for the review, Lorenzana said the defense department wanted the US to give a definitive stand on whether it will support the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) in the event of a confrontation with other claimants.

Lorenzana said areas in the South China Sea over which the Philippines has sovereign rights should be covered by the MDT to obligate the US to come to the aid of the country if ever the Philippines is attacked by other states.

“We are thinking about that also… we really wanted to review that also…  I think we have been discussing that with our staff inside the Department of National Defense (DND),” he said.

The Permanent Arbitration Court in The Hague has awarded the Philippines sovereign rights and defined its maritime entitlements over three disputed areas in the Spratlys: Panganiban (Mischief) Reef, Ayungin (Second Thomas) Shoal and Recto (Reed) Bank. Panatag (Scarborough) Shoal off Zambales was declared as a common fishing ground over which no country has control.

The arbitral court also invalidated China’s entire nine-dash-line territorial claim over the South China Sea.

China has ignored the ruling and built fortified artificial islands in the South China Sea including Panganiban Reef.

The Chinese sealed off Panatag and harassed resupply operations to Filipino troops on Ayungin.

The territorial dispute is listed by the AFP as the primary source of the country’s external threat.

Lorenzana said the review of the MDT and its provisions was raised with US officials a month ago in Hawaii by Defense Undersecretary Cardozo Luna.

“I think it was Undersecretary Luna who was invited to Hawaii to attend a conference where he said maybe we should start reviewing our MDT,” Lorenzana said.

“We are going to (review it)… we’ll need to look at the provisions there, discuss with the end view of reviewing to make it stronger,” he added.

Lorenzana said the review is needed in order for the country to make its alliance with the US stronger “because it is the only country we have an alliance with.”

The US, while sustaining its Freedom of Navigation Operations in the South China Sea directly challenging China’s massive maritime and territorial claim in the region, has been non-committal on whether it will defend the Philippines in the event of an attack.

“The US is very ambivalent. They are saying the MDT covers only the metropolitan Philippines. I think their definition of metropolitan Philippine is just the whole country and KIG (Kalayaan Island Group) is not included,” Lorenzana said.

He also raised concern on possible miscalculation in the disputed region, saying that once that happens close to the Filipino troops’ occupied outposts, the Philippines for sure will be dragged into the conflict.

“Recently, US and China destroyers almost figured in a collision and that is very concerning because if they go into a shooting war, we can be involved because it happened in our backyard,” Lorenzana pointed out.

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