US reaffirms attack vs. PHL to trigger defense pact

While the United States and the Philippine government did not discuss the calls for a Mutual Defense Treaty (MDT) review during a dialogue in Manila, Washington on Monday reaffirmed that any armed attack against the Philippine armed forces, public vessels, or aircraft in the South China Sea will trigger Article IV of the defense pact.

This assurance was given during the Eight Bilateral Strategic Dialogue between the two nations in Manila, where officials from the Department of Foreign Affairs met with a delegation from the State Department led by Assistant Secretary David Stilwell.

“They recalled Secretary [Mike] Pompeo’s statements on the 1951 MDT during his March 2019 visit to Manila, particularly the clarification that the South China Sea (SCS) is in the Pacific, and that any armed attack on Philippine armed forces, public vessels, or aircraft in the SCS will trigger Article IV of the Mutual Defense Treaty,” the two sides said in a joint statement.

“Noting this, senior officials discussed a wide variety of issues of mutual interest and reaffirmed their commitment to deepening the alliance and expanding areas of cooperation,” it said.

On whether Washington gave any commitment to the defense of the West Philippine Sea, Ambassador Jose Manuel Romualdez said the two sides only agreed to strengthen their cooperation.

“The only thing we have is that we will continue to cooperate, we will continue the EDCA (Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement), we will try to strengthen that and make it work for our mutual benefit,” he said in an ambush interview.

On the MDT, Romualdez said, “there was no talk about (the) review.”

He, however, said the nations pledged to enhance their already robust defense cooperation, including by improving defense infrastructure, updating personnel and logistics procedures, and increasing mutual communication and coordination on operational elements of regional security.

In this context, both sides committed to begin planning on a range of activities to improve maritime domain awareness, he added. PNA