Lorenzana says 67-yr old MDT could become cause, not deterent, for chaos


Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana Tuesday said he didn’t believe that the ambiguity or vagueness of the Philippines-United States Mutual Defense Treaty (MDT) will serve as a deterrent but, in fact, could even cause confusion and chaos during a crisis.

“The fact that the security environment now is so vastly different and much more complex than the bipolar security construct of the era when the MDT was written necessitates a review of the Treaty,” Lorenzana said in a statement.

“I would even argue that the MDT should have been reviewed when the U.S. bases were terminated in 1992, and we lost our security umbrella. A couple of years after the US left the bases, the Chinese began their aggressive actions in Mischief Reef–not an armed attack but it was aggression just the same. The US did not stop it,” he added.

Lorenzana said the Philippines was not in a conflict with anyone, and will not be at war with anyone in the future. But the United States, with the increased and frequent passage of its naval vessels in the West Philippine Sea, was more likely to be involved in a shooting war.

“In such a case and on the basis of the MDT, the Philippines will be automatically involved,” Lorenzana said.

“It is not the lack of reassurance that worries me. It is being involved in a war that we do not seek and do not want,” he added.

Lorenzana earlier said US Defense Assistant Secretary Joseph Felter will come to the Philippines this month to discuss possible changes in the 1951 Mutual Defense Treaty (MDT).

“This is not yet the review, this is just the exploratory talks, only discussion between ourselves,” Lorenzana said.

The 68-year-old agreement states that the Philippines and the U.S. would assist each other when either of them is attacked by a foreign force.

However, Lorenzana said the document does not specify which areas are covered by the agreement, thus the need to remove “ambiguities” in the treaty.

The Philippine Defense Secretary also wants to clarify provisions to cover U.S.-Philippine response to tensions in the West Philippine Sea or South China Sea.

Lorenzana said the U.S. should define what is covered by its assistance to the Philippines.

During his visit to the country last week, US State Secretary Michael Pompeo assured that any attack on Philippine forces, aircraft, or government vessels in the South China Sea “would trigger mutual defense obligations” under the Mutual Defense Treaty (MDT) signed by Manila and Washington in 1951.

“We have your back in the South China Sea,” Pompeo, relaying President Donald Trump’s assurance, told President Duterte during their meeting at the Villamor Air Base Thursday night, February 28.

The visiting US official gave this assurance when he was specifically asked to clarify on American commitment to help the Philippines in case a shooting war breaks in the South China Sea.

“As the South China Sea is part of the Pacific, any armed attack on Philippine forces, aircraft, republic vessels in the South China Sea would trigger defense treaty obligations under Article 4 of our Mutual Defense Treaty,” Pompeo said during a press conference at the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA).

Pompeo disclosed that he spoke about the American commitment during his separate talks with President Duterte and Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr.
“Our commitments under the treaty are clear. Our obligations are real. The South China Sea is certainly part of an important body of water for freedom of navigation,” he said.

With Pompeo’s assurance, the Philippines plans to scrap a review of its defense treaty with the U.S.

Locsin said that there was no need to review the treaty after fresh assurances from Pompeo that the US will come to the Philippines’ aid in the event of an attack in the South China Sea.

A possible review of the mutual defense would depend if “there are movements that will dispute or that will contradict what the US Secretary of State said.”
Pompeo pointed out that the administration of US President Trump has made a true commitment to making sure that the South China Sea remains open for the security of the countries in the region, of the world and open for commercial transit.

“China’s island-building and military activities in the South China Sea threaten your sovereignty, security and therefore economic livelihood, as well as that of the US,” Pompeo said at a joint briefing with Locsin in Manila.

While the US remains committed to maintaining the vital economic sea lanes open, Pompeo, however, said the Philippines and all the countries in the region will need to do their part so that China “does not pose a threat to closing them down.”

During the press conference, Locsin said he did not believe that going down into the details of the MDT is the way the sincerity of the American commitment will be shown.

“They will respond depending on the circumstances but we are very confident that the United States has in the word of Secretary Pompeo and the words of President Trump to our President, ‘we have your back’,” Locsin said.

The Department of National Defense raised the need to review the provisions of the 67-year-old MDT amid the rising tension in the South China Sea last December.