‘Alarmed’ Marcos Jr. No trigger for MDT

Alexis Romero, Pia Lee Brago - The Philippine Star
�Alarmed� Marcos Jr. No trigger for MDT
resident Ferdinand "Bongbong" Marcos Jr. and First Lady Liza Araneta-Marcos are welcomed by Australian Assistant Minister for Foreign Affairs Tim Watts and other officials as they arrived at Melbourne Airport, Australia on March 3, 2024.
PPA pool photos by Noel Pabalate

MELBOURNE – While expressing “great alarm” over the latest incident involving Filipino and Chinese vessels in the West Philippine Sea (WPS), President Marcos said he did not see it as a trigger for the Mutual Defense Treaty (MDT) between the Philippines and the United States.

The US reaffirmed yesterday its commitment to defend the Philippines under the MDT, following China’s recent aggression in the WPS.

In Melbourne for the ASEAN-Australia special summit, however, Marcos said in a video statement, in response to a media query: “I do not think that it is a time or the reason to invoke the Mutual Defense Treaty. However, we continue to view with great alarm this continuing dangerous maneuvers and dangerous actions that are being done against our seamen, our Coast Guard.”

Four Filipino crew members on a resupply mission to Ayungin (Second Thomas) Shoal in the WPS were injured when water cannon blasts from the China Coast Guard shattered the windshield of their boat on Tuesday morning. Coast guard vessels of the two countries also collided.

“The United States reaffirms that Article IV of the 1951 US-Philippines Mutual Defense Treaty extends to armed attacks on Philippine armed forces, public vessels or aircraft – including those of its Coast Guard – anywhere in the South China Sea,” US State Department spokesman Matthew Miller said.

In a statement, Miller said, “The United States stands with our ally the Philippines following the People’s Republic of China (PRC)’s provocative actions against lawful Philippine maritime operations in the South China Sea on March 5.”

At a press conference, the State Department spokesman said China’s latest actions “demonstrate once again a reckless disregard… for the safety of Filipinos and also for international law.”

He continued, “By impeding the safe operation of Philippine vessels carrying provisions to Filipino service members stationed at Second Thomas Shoal, the PRC interfered in lawful Philippine maritime operations and in Philippine vessels’ exercise of high-speed – of high-seas freedom of navigation.”

Miller reiterated that the US will stand with the Philippines “in the face of these dangerous and unlawful actions,” but the official had no categorical answer when asked if the recent incident could trigger the US’s MDT with the Philippines.“I’m not going to speculate or get out ahead of any discussions… in this regard,” he said.

The US said the MDT, signed in 1951, “remains the bedrock of our cooperation.”
When asked during a joint press briefing of the National Task Force-WPS about the US reaffirming that the MDT extends to armed attacks on Philippine armed forces, public vessels or aircraft including those of its Coast Guard anywhere in the South China Sea, Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) spokesperson Ma. Teresita Daza said: “Suffice it to say, there is continuing and ongoing discussion and consultation between the US and the Philippines on a number of areas of cooperation, including defense cooperation.”

Daza cited “repeated narratives” and “broken promises,” but the Philippines “has not entered into any agreement that will abandon our sovereign rights and jurisdiction of our EEZ.”

“We condemn the PRC’s repeated obstruction of Philippine vessels’ exercise of high seas freedom of navigation and its disruption of supply lines to this longstanding outpost,” Miller said.

China’s actions, he said, again show disregard for the safety and livelihood of Filipinos and international law.?

Respect for UNCLOS

Miller referred to an international tribunal’s legally binding decision issued in July 2016 that ruled China has no lawful maritime claims to the waters around Ayungin Shoal, and that the shoal is a low tide feature clearly within the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone (EEZ). ?

“As provided under the 1982 Law of the Sea Convention, the 2016 arbitral decision is final and legally binding on the PRC and the Philippines, and the United States calls upon the PRC to abide by the ruling and desist from its dangerous and destabilizing conduct,” he said.

The international community condemned China’s aggression, unlawful action and harassment in the WPS.

France expressed concern over China’s dangerous actions against the Philippine vessels.

“France expresses its concern about today’s incidents in the South China Sea,” French Ambassador Marie Fontanel posted on X.

“We call for respect for UNCLOS, for freedom of navigation and resolutely oppose any threat or use of force contrary to international law. We remain attached to resolving disputes through dialogue,” she said.

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