FAIR COMMENT | Alito L. Malinao
The recent incursion of several Chinese vessels in the Julian Felipe Reef, which is part of our exclusive economic zone (EEZ), has raised some disturbing questions about the 70-year-old Mutual Defense Treaty (MDT) signed by the Philippines and the United States.
Under the MDT signed in 1951, the Philippines and the United States committed to come to the aid of the other in case of external armed attack in the Pacific. Article V of the treaty stated “an armed attack on either of the Parties is deemed to include an armed attack on the metropolitan territory of either of the Parties, or on the island territories under its jurisdiction in the Pacific Ocean, its armed forces, public vessels or aircraft in the Pacific.”
The U.S. recently affirmed its commitment to defend the Philippines in case of an armed attack against Filipino vessels in the South China Sea under the MDT. In a recent phone call, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken had assured Foreign Secretary Teodoro Locsin, Jr. of the importance of the MDT “for the security of both nations.”
Blinken also rejected China’s maritime claims in the South China Sea “to the extent they exceed the maritime zones that China is permitted to claim under international law” as reflected in the 1982 United Nations Law of the Sea Convention.
Well and good. At least this assurance would allow our security agencies to relax a bit in the midst of the threat of a military invasion from China. Or are we just being lulled into complacency and false security?
Because Article 4 of the MDT expressly provides that an armed attack in the Pacific Area on either of the Parties would require each nation to “act to meet the common dangers in accordance with its constitutional processes.”
The phrase “constitutional processes” is a clear indication that an attack on the Philippines by China would not automatically trigger a U.S. response. For example, if war breaks out in the West Philippine Sea, the White House will still go to the U.S. Congress to get a go-signal for U.S. military assets to come to the rescue of the Philippines under the MDT.
Today, the U.S. Congress is dominated by Democrats, some of them have not forgiven President Duterte who called their leader, Barack Obama, a son of a bitch. Do you think these Democrats would come to the succor of Duterte in case of war with China? We must remember that Biden was Obama’s vice president when Duterte’s insult was uttered. And Obama is still Biden’s top adviser.
Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana had suggested that the MDT ought to be reviewed to determine whether it should be maintained, improved, or scrapped. He pointed to the ambivalence in the wording “in accordance with constitutional processes” required before the U.S. could come to the succor of the Philippines in case of an attack by China.
Last week, Locsin also admitted that a situation involving civilian vessels in the West Philippine Sea “opens a whole new area of interest.” An armed attack on a Filipino civilian passenger vessel must also trigger the United States’ obligations under the MDT.
Locsin was reacting to an incident where a crew of ABS-CBN was reportedly chased by the Chinese vessel in the waters within our country’s jurisdiction.