PBBM won't invoke MDT over laser incident in South China Sea

President Ferdinand "Bongbong" Marcos Jr. has decided against activating the Philippines' mutual defense treaty (MDT) with the United States of America (USA) over the laser-pointing incident between the Philippine and Chinese coast guards in the South China Sea as the incident was "not enough" to trigger such defense commitments.

President Ferdinand 'Bongbong' Marcos Jr. (Noel Pabalate)

Marcos said this after a Chinese coast guard ship allegedly beamed a "military-grade laser light" at the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) 's BRP Malapascua, leaving a crew member temporarily blind and disrupting a mission in the South China Sea on Feb. 6.

In an interview following the celebration of the Philippine Military Academy Alumni Homecoming 2023 in Baguio City, the President said invoking the MDT, which he said was under "continuous evolution," would be "counter-productive."

The Philippines has a mutual defense treaty with the USA signed in 1951 that binds the two countries to aid each other in case of foreign aggression.

"If we activate that, what we're doing is escalating the, intensifying the tensions in the area. I think that would be counter-productive," Marcos said.

"Despite the fact that it was a military-grade laser that was pointed at our coast guard, I do not think that it is sufficient for it to trigger the mutual defense treaty," he added.

According to the President, it would be better if the Philippines would intensify its cooperation with its neighboring countries.

"We are in constant contact, of course, with our treaty partners, not only with the United States but also our ASEAN partners and our partners here in Asia," Marcos said.

"That, I think, is the better recourse rather than go directly to the mutual defense treaty, which, again, I am very concerned would provoke the tensions rather than cool the tensions down," he added.

Marcos expressed the same sentiment when the Philippines and Japan agreed to boost security and defense ties during his official working visit to Tokyo last week. Japan also proposed a Japan-US-Philippines tripartite agreement.

'Not what we agreed on'

Meanwhile, President Marcos said that he told Chinese Ambassador to the Philippines Huang Xilian that the laser-pointing incident was only part of the intensifying actions of the Chinese forces in the South China Sea.

He added that this was not how "close friends" should treat each other.

"If we are such close friends, such as China and the Philippines, these are not the kinds of incidents that we should be talking about-- between the President and the Ambassador to the Philippines from China," Marcos said.

"I reminded him (Huang) that this was not what we agreed upon with President Xi when I visited him in Beijing," he added.

Still, President Marcos hoped both countries would find a "better way" to resolve the issue.

"We are hoping that we can find a better way rather than these incursions into our maritime territory and the rather aggressive acts that we have been seeing in the last few weeks and months," he said.

During the same event in Baguio City, President Marcos assured the public that his administration would not let the Philippines lose an inch of its territory while it was busy securing investments for the country.

On Tuesday, Feb. 14, President Marcos summoned Huang to Malacañang "to express his serious concern over the increasing frequency and intensity of actions by China against the Philippine Coast Guard and our Filipino fishermen in their bancas."

China, however, denied that its coast guard ship pointed a military-grade laser at the PCG vessel, saying it used a hand-held laser speed detector and hand-held greenlight pointer to "measure the distance and speed of the Philippine vessel and signal directions to ensure navigation safety."

"We need to highlight that the China Coast Guard ship did not direct lasers at the Philippine crew, and the hand-held equipment does not inflict damage on anything or anyone on the vessel. The Philippine side's allegation does not reflect the truth," Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin said.