By Vanne Elaine Terrazola
Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. maintained on Thursday that the Philippines cannot just invoke the Mutual Defense Treaty (MDT) to ask the United States’ help to drive out Chinese ships that have been intruding into the country’s territory.
Locsin, at the Senate’s inquiry into the Philippines’ defense agreements with the U.S., explained to senators that the country’s long-time ally would not meddle with the territorial dispute in the South China Sea unless “we die first.”
Sen. Imee Marcos had pressed officials of the executive department to recommend to President Duterte that he seek U.S. assistance, using the MDT, to “drive out China from Scarborough Shoal” and other areas in the South China Sea that it claims to own.
Pointing to the increasing presence of Chinese militia in the country’s waters, she said seeking the U.S.’ help would prove its sincerity in supporting the Philippines in times of attacks by other countries.
“I wouldn’t do it. Simply because it’s a Mutual Defense Treaty and not an invitation to a war,” Locsin said in response to Marcos.
He said under the MDT, the U.S. would come to the Philippines’ defense, or vice versa, if one of its ships was sunk by China.
He was referring to a provision in the MDT defining ‘armed attack’ as any attack on either of the parties’ “metropolitan territory,” or its vessels and aircrafts.
“Before you can trigger that, we must die first. Don’t you think that’s fair? You cannot ask, under MDT, that the other country go to war unless we suffer an attack,” Locsin said.
“Let’s invite it. I ask for volunteers,” he jested.
Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said the same condition was the reason he has been calling for a review of the MDT.
He said he spoke to U.S. Secretary of Defense Mark Esper to explain the Philippines’ position to revisit the 68-year-old agreement.
“And for some reason, the U.S. [does] not want it reviewed,” he told senators.
“‘I went to the Pentagon, talked to the secretary of defense, and said, ‘The reason why I want — I told them — the MDT to be reviewed, is that while it provides for an attack of one of our countries or vessels, the adversary seems to know these. They do not attack the vessels of the Philippines, they just creep forward, one by one, island to island,” Lorenzana said.
“And [I] said [to him], ‘To us that is our territory, to you it is not. So there is a disconnect [in] our interpretation of the MDT and yours.'”
Lorenzana maintained that Scarborough Shoal, locally called Panatag Shoal, is “part of our territory.”
Last November, Esper said he is open to reviewing the MDT.
Meanwhile, University of the Philippines political science professor Dr. Clarita Ramos said she believes that the country cannot just “ask Americans to do something which we ourselves could not do.”
She pushed instead for a regional fishing agreement with China and other countries surrounding the South China Sea to address the territorial dispute.
In July 2019, Duterte raised the MDT and called on U.S. forces “to gather in front of China” after the sinking of a Filipino fishing boat by a Chinese vessel in Recto Bank.