Philippines’ Defence Secretary, Delfin Lorenzana at a press briefing at Camp Aguinaldo in late December last year spoke of the need for a review of the 1951 Mutual Defence Treaty (MDT) with the United States given the growing security concerns in the South China Sea. The Defence Secretary had mentioned, given the ambivalent stand of the United States with respect to the Philippines’ claim in the West Philippine Sea (as referred to by the Philippines), “the government had three options after the review: Maintain it, strengthen it, or scrap it.” The main premise of the MDT is “that the Philippines and the U.S. would assist each other when either of them is attacked by a foreign force.”
The MDT between the Philippines and the US was signed on August 30 1951, in Washington, D.C. After the Philippines gained independence on July 4 1946, a strong American presence persisted. Under the 1947 Military Bases Agreement, a number of US military bases were set up in the Philippines. Most notable ones being the Clark Air Base and the Subic Bay (US naval station). The bases were maintained and operated by the US until 1991 and 1992 respectively. Philippines has been the oldest treaty ally of the US in Southeast Asia. Besides the MDT, the two countries have signed other agreements as well like the Visiting Forces Agreement in 1998, The Enhanced Defence Cooperation in 2014. After the 1992 withdrawal of the US from Manila, the relationship between the two countries improved further in the economic, defence and the security realms. The major thrust of the security relationship rests on the 1951 MDT. Scholars have even branded the US as the Philippines’ ‘security umbrella’. In his September 2018 meeting with US Secretary of State, Michael Pompeo, Lorenzana had said, “Most in our defense establishments agree that the Philippines-US alliance remains robust based on an enduring history of close engagement and our unwavering commitment to work together on shared values.” Therefore, the current statement of Delfin Lorenzana in December last year “that this treaty was signed in the Cold War era, do we still have a Cold War today? Is it still relevant to our security? Maybe not anymore” comes as a surprise.