Department of National Defense (DND) Secretary Delfin Lorenzana on Thursday, December 20 called for the review the 1951 Philippines’ Mutual Defense Treaty with the United States amid conflict between China and the U.S. in the West Philippine Sea (WPS).
“Since we have a Mutual Defense Treaty with the U.S. we might get involved in their conflict because it is [happening] in our turf. It is within the West Philippine Sea, within our sovereign jurisdiction in the WPS,” Lorenzana said as reported by The Philippine Daily Inquirer.
He added, “We are going to (review it) we’ll need to look at the provisions there, discuss with the end view of reviewing to make it stronger.”
The defense secretary emphasized the importance of reviewing the said treaty since the U.S. has an ambivalent stand regarding the Philippines’ maritime domain and territorial issue in the West Philippine Sea, also known as the South China Sea.
“The U.S. is very ambivalent there. The U.S. has always said it will not meddle into territorial disputes. They would not care about that [dispute]. We are thinking about that also we really wanted to review that also. I think we have been discussing that with our staff inside the Department of National Defense (DND),” he said.
In a news conference at Camp Aguinaldo, he said encounters between American and Chinese forces in the area were “very concerning,” particularly the recent near-collision of destroyers from both countries.
“Recently, U.S. and China destroyers almost figured in a collision and that is very concerning because if they go into a shooting war, we can be involved because it happened in our backyard,” Lorenzana pointed out.
The need to review the 67-year-old treaty stemmed from the exclusion of the islands, shoals and reefs in the WPS that comprise of the Kalayaan Island Group in the West Philippine Sea that the country is claiming.
“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 treaty stated.
The Permanent Arbitration Court in The Hague gave the country jurisdiction over Panganiban (Mischief) Reef, Ayungin (Second Thomas) Shoal and Recto (Reed) Bank.
However, in the treaty, Lorenzana said that they are not covered because they were outside the country’s 370-kilometer exclusive economic zone (EEZ).
“So if anything happens, those islands are not covered by the Mutual Defense Treaty,” he added.
The U.S., while sustaining its Freedom of Navigation Operations in the South China Sea directly challenging China’s massive maritime and territorial claim in the region, has been non-committal on whether it will defend the Philippines in the event of an attack.