US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who met with Duterte last week, said Washington would protect Manila if its forces are attacked in the disputed West Philippine Sea and South China Sea.
AFP/File
Philippines hails US defense assurance
Alexis Romero (The Philippine Star) - March 5, 2019 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines — President Duterte has hailed the United States’ assurance that it will defend the Philippines from attacks but expressed qualms about the processes that require approval of American lawmakers. 

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who met with Duterte last week, said Washington would protect Manila if its forces are attacked in the disputed West Philippine Sea  and South China Sea. 

Pompeo noted that an armed attack on Philippine forces, aircraft or public vessels in the West Philippine Sea would trigger obligations under the Mutual Defense Treaty.

“America said, ‘We will protect you. We will – your backs are covered I’m sure.’ I said, it’s OK,” Duterte said during a campaign sortie of the Partido Demokratiko Pilipino-Lakas ng Bayan last Sunday in Zamboanga City. 

“But the problem here is they would invoke the (Mutual Defense Treaty) which was entered into by us, by our ancestors... But in America, it has to pass through Congress. Any declaration of war will pass Congress. You know how b***s*** America’s Congress is,” he added. 

Duterte noted that US President Donald Trump is facing a budget stalemate because of a disagreement with lawmakers. 

“They still do not have a budget. I almost experienced that. But our congressmen’s approval of the budget was timely,” he said. 

“We were nearing the same situation as with America. They do not have a budget... We have similarities. America crafted our Constitution,” he said. 

The US government was forced to shut down because of disagreements over Trump’s appeal for funding of a wall along the US-Mexico border to prevent the entry of illegal immigrants. 

In a related development, Malacañang said it has to verify reports that Chinese ships drove away Filipino fishermen near Pag-asa Island in the West Philippine Sea. 

If proven, such action by Chinese vessels are “certainly” not correct, presidential spokesman Salvador Panelo said. 

“Our fishermen have been fishing there. So... nobody has the right to drive our fishermen away. But we’ll have to validate that,” he said.

‘Rightly deserved assurance’

The US assurance that Washington will defend the Philippines against any attack in the South China Sea is one of the most important statements made since the Mutual Defense Treaty was ratified in 1951, former foreign affairs secretary Albert del Rosario said.

“It behooves the Filipinos to finally be provided this ‘specific’ and ‘rightly-deserved’ assurance,” Del Rosario, chairman of the independent think tank Stratbase ADR Institute (ADRi) Inc. said.

“As the South China Sea is part of the Pacific, any armed attack on Philippine forces, aircraft or public vessels in the South China Sea would trigger mutual defense obligations under Article 4 of our Mutual Defense Treaty,” Pompeo said. 

He noted that “China’s island building and military activities in the South China Sea threaten sovereignty, security and economic livelihood as well as that of the United States.”

Del Rosario, who served as ambassador to the US, said it was an “imperative for our disruptive northern neighbor to be forewarned of the significance of our mutual defense treaty alliance,” referring to China that declared itself “a builder of world peace, contributor to global development and defender of international order” despite its militarization of the South China Sea. – Pia Lee-Brago

MUTUAL DEFENSE TREATY UNITED STATES
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