By Francis Wakefield
CLARK AIR BASE, Pampanga – Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana on Tuesday said that United States Defense Assistant Secretary Joseph Felter will be arriving in the country on Thursday (March 21, 2019) to discuss possible changes in the 1951 Mutual Defense Treaty (MDT).
In an interview here, Lorenzana said he and Felter will have a closed-door meeting at the Department of National Defense (DND) building at Camp Aguinaldo, Quezon City for the exploratory talks.
“Couple of hours lang, pupunta sa akin [It will just be a couple of hours, he will go to me],” Lorenzana said.
When asked by reporters on what to expect during their exploratory talks, Lorenzana said “Hindi ko pa alam, mag-uusap pa kami [I don’t know, we still have to talk]”.
“Kaya nga exploratory lang, wala pang talking points diyan. Gusto lang natin malaman [That’s wny its exploratory, there is still no talking points. We just want to know] what do they think about our proposal to open up for discussion what is in the MDT,” the defense secretary said.
With regards to the continuing Freedom of Navigation (FoNOps) by the United States in the South China Sea, Lorenzana said that is their concern.
“Strategy nila yan. wala tayong pakialam. Hindi naman sila nagpapa-alam na mag-FoNOps sila [That’s their strategy, we don’t have any say. They don’t get our permission for FoNOps] and they do not get our permission so it’s up to them,” he said.
“The SCS or WPS is always open for navigation for all kasi iyun ang daanan ng ating mga trades, mga commerce natin. I think [much] of the world’s commerce passes through this corridor. Hindi dapat matigil yan. So itong kanilang mga FoNOps is Freedom of Navigation operation daw iyan. So they’re just trying to ensure that that is open. Sabi naman ng Chinese, hindi naman namin tinitigil. Sabi naman ng U.S.”We will continue to do that so that it will continue open. So bahala na silang mag-resolve sa kanilang differences,” he said.
The 68-year-old agreement states that the Philippines and the U.S. would assist each other when either of them is attacked by a foreign force.
However, Lorenzana said that the document does not specify which areas are covered by the agreement, thus the need to remove “ambiguities” in the treaty.
The Philippine Defense Secretary also wants to clarify provisions to cover U.S.-Philippine response to tensions in the West Philippine Sea or the South China Sea.
Lorenzana said the U.S. should define what is covered by its assistance to the Philippines.