DFA: Treaty ensures US will come to PH defense in disputed seas

Posted at 04/30/14 11:28 AM

MANILA (2nd UPDATE) - The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) believes the United States will come to the Philippines’ defense if it is attacked in the Pacific area, which covers the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea).

In a short statement Wednesday, Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario said: “Under the Mutual Defense Treaty, the United States will come to the assistance of the Philippines if our metropolitan territory is attacked or if our Armed Forces are attacked in the Pacific area.”

This means that the disputed areas in the West Philippine Sea are covered.

“In 1999, in a diplomatic letter, the United States affirmed that the South China Sea is considered as part of the Pacific area,” he said.

Del Rosario was referring to a letter US Ambassador Thomas Hubbard had written to Foreign Secretary Domingo Siazon on May 24, 1999 where Hubbard cited Defense Secretary William Cohen’s statement that "the US considers the South China Sea to be part of the Pacific Area."

Article V of the MDT states: “An armed attack on either of the parties is deemed to include an 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.”

To the DFA, Hubbard’s letter citing Cohen’s definition of the Pacific is assurance the US will come to the aid of the Philippines in the event of conflict over disputed areas in the West Philippine Sea.

But lawyer Harry Roque of the Center for International Law disagrees. “Hubbard can’t reinvent the meaning of the Pacific,” he said. “If so, Obama should have used the same language he used in Japan.” 

Obama last week gave a clear commitment that the US would come to the aid of Japan in the event of any conflict with China over the disputed Senkaku islands, but no such categorical statement was made when he was asked about the West Philippine Sea.

"The message is clear - the US will defend the Philippines,” Professor Herman Kraft told ANC’s Beyond Politics. “What's not clear is if that guarantee includes the West Philippine Sea," the political analyst said.

Roque also cites “historical fact” that the US never recognized the Spratlys as part of the Philippines. “The US didn’t protest when France claimed the Spratlys in 1933,” he said. “They never recognized our title to the Spratlys.”

Former Interior Secretary Rafael Alunan III, meanwhile, said the US will stand by the Philippines in case of an armed attack. "

"The question now is, what happens if it's not an external armed attack? What China did in Mischief Reef, Scarborough Shoal and now in Ayungin was not armed in any way," he noted.

He said agreements with other nations should not be the Philippines' primary defense. He said the Philippines also has to address the problem of China on its own.

He said Congress should invest in the country's national defense. "They have to invest in our national security, which is a very broad umbrella which covers human and ecological security other than or in addition to civil defense and national defense."

On the last day of his state visit, US President Barack Obama took note of the MDT forged between the two nations in 1951. “Our commitment to defend the Philippines is ironclad and the US will keep that commitment because allies never stand alone."

He specifically quoted the provision in the treaty that provides for “their common determination to defend themselves against external armed attack, so that no potential aggressor could be under the illusion that either of them stands alone in the Pacific area.”

At the start of his 2-day state visit on Monday, however, Obama said the US goal is not to “contain China.” -- with a report from Gigi Grande, ABS-CBN News