Geographic curse or blessing?


THE Mutual Defense Treaty (MDT) that the Philippines signed with the United States in 1951 was supposed to give the country a sense of security against any prospect of an external attack.

But given its current form and with its “ambiguous” provisions, the treaty with the country’s longtime ally does not provide this sense of comfort, particularly against China and its continued—seemingly unstoppable—march in the West Philippine Sea (WPS), which Beijing contends.

China has been characterized by the previous Aquino administration and its security officials as the foremost threat to the country’s territorial integrity, believing that if ever there would be a “shooting war,” this would have to come by way of the Chinese through the contentious issues surrounding claims to portions of the South China Sea.

This “realistic” assessment prompted the government to revisit its Cold War-borne agreement with the Americans, and even casually invoked it in the face of the Chinese threat involving the WPS, which started in 2012, when Beijing began exercising de facto control over the Scarborough Shoal near Zambales.

Friend or foe?
SINCE China and its aggressive activities in the WPS have been considered a threat—although oddly the current administration treats the Chinese as friends—a number of government officials, including Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana, viewed the MDT as a “piece of paper” in its current form that needed to be reviewed as it is giving the country a false pretense of security, given that in the minds of the Americans, it cannot be invoked on the issue of any territorial dispute.

The review has gotten a positive feedback from the US.

“Maybe within the year; within the year, because the Americans are also interested. They have been asking me about our plans,” said Lorenzana a couple of days ago, adding that a high-level delegation from the US would be arriving soon for the review’s preliminary informal talks.

He said the Americans wanted to know what the Filipinos are thinking over the treaty, and the same for the other side.

“The agreement is very, very short. We want to remove the ambiguities because they always say that we do not involve ourselves in territorial disputes,” the defense chief said.

Lorenzana maintained that if the government has to renegotiate the treaty, it would be for the best interest of the country, or for the mutual benefit of both parties, as the MDT also obligated Manila to come to the aid of the Americans if they are attacked.

When China began to show its aggressive posturing, not only in the WPS, but in the contested portions of the South China Sea, the US has repeatedly announced its “iron-clad” support to the Philippines by way of the MDT, but this expression of support was absent, silent—or at the least, nondefinitive—in the case of territories claimed by the country, but are being claimed by Beijing.