Palace doubts US will help PH if row with China on WPS escalates

The government is having doubts on whether the Philippines could count on the United States in case of a full-blown conflict in the West Philippine Sea.

Chinese vessels spotted at the Julian Felipe Reef on March 27, 2021 (Photo courtesy of National Task Force for the West Philippine Sea)

Presidential spokesman Harry Roque recalled the United States did nothing to help the country when it lost control of two islands years ago despite its existing defense pact, adding he was unsure if the western nation will still be a reliable ally amid a latest developments in the territorial conflict.

Roque issued the statement after Philippine Ambassador to the United States Jose Manuel Romualdez claimed the United States was just a call away if the country is in need of assistance in removing the Chinese vessels staying in local waters.

Manila earlier filed diplomatic protests over the continued stay of Chinese ships in Julian Felipe Reef and demanded the pullout. China has ignored the country's appeal, insisting the fishing boats were sheltering from rough seas.

"Ang problema po kasi diyan eh, dalawang beses na tayong nawalan ng isla eh hindi naman gumalaw ang Estados Unidos. Ano ang naging mga pronouncement ng Amerika, hindi sila naghihimasok sa pinag-aagawang teritoryo (The problem with that is we lost two islands and the United States did not move then. America's pronouncements were they do not interfere with the territorial dispute)," Roque said over DZXL Wednesday, April 29, when asked about the Palace view on the reported US willingness to help Manila in the South China Sea dispute.

"So hindi mo maintindihan kung maaasahan mo ang Amerika. Dalawa na iyong nawalang isla, Mischief Reef at saka iyong Panatag or Scarborough Shoal eh hindi naman sila sumaklolo noong mga panahon na iyon (So you can't understand if you can really count on America. We lost two islands, Mischief Reef and Panatag or Scarborough Shoal and they did not come to our aid then)," he said.

The Philippines and United States are considered long-time defense allies. A treaty, signed in 1951, commits both parties to defend each other in case of an external armed attack.

Roque however recalled the US' alleged inaction when the country lost control of Panatag Shoal during the Aquino administration in 2012.

He said the country withdrew from the shoal to end the standoff upon the advice of the US government supposedly to avoid trouble. China, however, did not budge and opted to stay in the area, effectively taking control of the shoal.

"Kung maalala mo iyong Panatag sa panahon ni Presidente Aquino na talagang maka Amerikano ng husto si Albert del Rosario na Kalihim ng Foreign Affairs, eh wala namang ginawa ng Amerikano (If you remember the Panatag incident during the administration of President Duterte, then Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario was pro-American. The Americans did nothing)," he said.

Early this month, the United States has voiced concern over the presence of Chinese vessels in the South China Sea and vowed to support the Philippines under a mutual defense pact.

In a phone call with Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr., US State Department Secretary Anthony Blinken reaffirmed the applicability of the 1951 U.S.-Philippine mutual defense treaty to the current South China Sea conflict.