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, to discuss possible changes in the 1951 Mutual Defense Treaty (MDT).
Lorenzana said he and Felter will have a closed-door exploratory talks at the Department of National Defense (DND) building at Camp Aguinaldo, Quezon City.
“A couple of hours lang, pupunta sa akin (We will talk for a couple of hours. He will visit me),” Lorenzana said.
Asked what he expects during the talks, Lorenzana answered: “Hindi ko pa alam, mag-uusap pa kami (I don’t know yet. We have to talk first).”
“Kaya nga exploratory lang, wala pang talking points diyan. Gusto lang natin malaman [That’s why its exploratory, there are still no talking points. We just want to know] what they think about our proposal to open up discussion on the MDT,” he said.
Asked about 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 on that. They don’t need our permission for FoNOps]
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 mga 6T 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. they will continue to do that so that it will continue to be open. So bahala na silang mag-resolve sa kanilang differences,” he said.
The 68-year-old agreement states that the Philippines and the US would assist each other when either of them is attacked by a foreign force.
Lorenzana said 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 include US-Philippine response to tensions in the West Philippine Sea or South China Sea.
Lorenzana said the US should define what is covered by its assistance to the Philippines.