The Chinese Coast Guard’s blocking and firing of water cannon on local supply boats headed to Ayungin (Second Thomas) Shoal last month will not trigger the Mutual Defense Treaty (MDT) between the United States and the Philippines, the Chief of Staff of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) disclosed over the weekend.
Lt. Gen. Andres Centino, AFP Chief of Staff, believes that while the incident was a “hostile act” on the part of China, it could not be considered an “armed attack” since they only used water cannons.
“The act of using the water cannon against our vessel is not considered an armed attack. It could be a hostile act,” he said in a television interview over CNN Philippines on Sunday night, Dec. 5.
“In the provisions of the Mutual Defense Treaty, in Article 2 and Article 4, it specifically stated that only in the case of an armed can we invoke [it],” he added.
The November 16 incident, which saw three CCG vessels preventing two Philippine civilian boats from sending food and supplies to troops stationed at BRP Sierra Madre in Ayungin Shoal, caused a public uproar and ignited a fresh tension in the West Philippine Sea (WPS).
The shoal is located approximately 105 nautical miles west of Palawan and within the Philippines’ 200-nautical mile exclusive economic zone (EEZ).
President Duterte and various government agencies led by the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) and Department of National Defense (DND) had slammed China over the incident.
DFA Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. even reminded China that public vessels of the Philippines are covered by the United States and Philippines’ MDT.
The MDT, signed in in 1951, is a commitment between Washington and Manila to defend each other in case of an armed attack by an external party.
Article 2 of the MDT states that “the Parties separately and jointly by self-help and mutual aid will maintain and develop their individual and collective capacity to resist armed attack.”
Meanwhile, Article 4 states that “each Party recognizes that an armed attack in the Pacific area on either of the parties would be dangerous to its own peace and safety and declares that it would act to meet the common dangers in accordance with its constitutional processes” by reporting it to the United Nations for necessary action.
While the Ayungin incident may not trigger MDT, Centino assured that the BRP Sierra Madre, a rusty and dilapidated vessel deliberately grounded on the shoal to serve as a garrison for Filipino soldiers, will not be a target of an armed attack by China.
“We don’t really see that happening because we have open communications with [the] Chinese government [to] see that this can be resolved peacefully,” he said.
He also suggested that the MDT be revisited and revised to suit the present day challenges in the Pacific region.
“Perhaps with the evolving security, the two governments can consider studying [or] a revision on some provisions,” the AFP Chief stated.