Although the United States repeatedly gave its assurance to the Philippine government that any armed attack against the Philippines, including on the disputed South China Sea, would trigger its defense pact, the government should still push for a review of the Mutual Defense Treaty (MDT), a political expert said Thursday.
“In case of an attack, the US has to go through its constitutional processes, which means the Congress, the lower chamber and the upper chamber, still have to look into it while in the NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization) it’s automatic — when there is an attack, there is automatic retaliation,” political analyst and University of the Philippines professor Clarita Carlos told the Philippine News Agency.
“We need to have automaticity,” she said.
In a joint presser with visiting State Secretary Michael Pompeo, Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. said a review of the MDT requires “further thought.”
He noted that “in vagueness lies uncertainty, a deterrent, specificity invites evasion and actions outside the MDT framework.”
Although “too much vagueness lends itself to doubt the firmness of commitments,” Locsin said he “doesn’t believe that going down into the details is the way the sincerity of the American commitment will be shown.”
He pointed out that Washington would respond depending on the circumstances, but the country is “very confident” that US, in assurances made by Pompeo and US President Donald Trump, has the Philippines’ back.
Carlos underscored that assurance alone is “not enough”, more so when invoking a treaty as old as the MDT, which was created as a product of the Cold War that ended three decades ago.
“Treaties are usually invoked but you will have to agree on what the terms in the treaties mean, what an attack means, etc.,” she said. “After Trump, paano ‘yon (After President Donald Trump, what will happen?”
Pompeo’s affirmation that Washington would come into Manila’s aid in the event of an attack in the South China Sea is seen as a significant policy statement from the US, as the Philippine government has long wanted a clarification if the disputed region is covered in the 67-year-old defense treaty.
Earlier, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said US interpretation covered only the “metropolitan Philippines” and does not include the Philippine-occupied areas in the contested waters.
China, Taiwan and other littoral states such as the Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei, and Vietnam have competing claims in the South China Sea over which Beijing has asserted its nine-dash line or the invisible demarcation that claims almost 90 percent of the strategic waterway.
Meanwhile, the Chinese Foreign Ministry, in response to Pompeo, thanked “the concerted efforts by regional countries” in keeping the situation in the South China Sea “generally stable and sound.”
“If non-regional countries, for example the US, truly wish for peace, tranquility and well-being for people in the region, they should stay away from stirring up troubles,” Ministry Spokesperson Lu Kang warned. PNA