For the first time in recent memory, a Philippine administration deemed it necessary to review the sacrosanct Mutual Defense Treaty (MDT) between the Philippines and the United States signed in 1951.
The country had relied on the agreement for American military might at times of conflict involving the Philippines but which has not materialized when help is most needed.
Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said the MDT instead puts the country in harm’s way if an all-out confrontation happens between the US and China over the West Philippine Sea conflict.
The pact can only be invoked when “the territorial integrity, political independence or security of either of the Parties is threatened by external armed attack in the Pacific.”
It stated “an armed attack on either of the Parties is deemed to include an armed attack on the metropolitan territory of either of the Parties, or on the Island territories under its jurisdiction in the Pacific Ocean, its armed forces, public vessels or aircraft in the Pacific.”
Lorenzana noted that the accord’s territorial coverage was silent on areas in the WPS that the country is claiming which is an omission that the US apparently exploits in its arms-length involvement in the conflict.
“The US has always said it will not meddle into territorial disputes. They would not care about that,” the Defense chief said.
Even Scarborough Shoal, which is west of Zambales province and within the Philippine EEZ, may not be considered part of “metropolitan” Philippines, thus outside the treaty.
Former President Noynoy Aquino’s belligerent policy treatment on China has brought into focus the inequity in the deal.
The Americans, through the willing stooge Noynoy, wangled an Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement or EDCA that committed the opening of Philippine military camps for the use of American forces.
A fierce debate happened on the pact’s character as Noynoy insisted that it is an Executive agreement while senators said it is a treaty that needed concurrence from Congress.
It took the Supreme Court to resolve the issue declaring that it is an Executive agreement that does not need concurrence from the Legislative.
The initiative to address the defects of the MDT also proves the proactive foreign policy of Rody, which the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) described in a report as being “underappreciated.”
While criticism of Rody largely focuses on his rhetoric, beyond it “the administration has undertaken significant steps — symbolic, actual and enduring — to demonstrate its resolve in the WPS,” the study noted.
Among the steps cited was the sending of the highest-level official delegation led by Lorenzana in 2017 to the Kalayaan (Spratly) Islands in recent memory.
CSIS said it was a publicized visit that other claimants, including Vietnam and China, have yet to attempt.
It added the Duterte administration has undertaken major improvements in facilities and structures in the Kalayaan which previous administrations wanted to do but hesitated out of concern over how other claimants would react.
The CSIS also cited the Second Horizon Modernization Program (2018-2022) of the AFP that has been strengthened under the Duterte administration.
Among the upgrades in the program was the acquisition of two squadrons of multi-role fighter aircraft and a frigate while long-range patrol aircraft, drones and offshore patrol vessels are also being purchased.
“Duterte emphasized the purchase of new units instead of second-hand or decommissioned ones as had been the case with previous acquisitions,” it added.
The CSIS also noted the diversification of arms suppliers while welcoming goodwill visits by US, Chinese, Japanese, Russian and Indian naval and coast guard ships. “This gives substance to the policy of being friends to all and enemies to none,” it said.
“These actions show that assessing Duterte’s foreign policy by focusing on his rhetoric alone can lead to erroneous conclusions,” the CSIS added.
In a rebuke of critics of his independent foreign policy, the CSIS said “the demand for immediate results given the short presidential term (six years) and doubts about US alliance commitments (ambiguity in the coverage and activation of the Mutual Defense Treaty, failure to halt China’s massive island-building project, President Trump’s transactional leadership) influence (Duterte’s) predisposition.”
Rody has indeed scored symbolic, actual and enduring gains in his two years in office compared to the amateurish utter reliance of Noynoy in the Americans.
Total dependence on the Americans was a legacy from Noynoy’s mother, former President Cory Aquino, whose administration was salvaged from being lost to Reform the Armed Forces Movement mutineers through US military air power.
Cory also had to literally walk a hundred miles for rallies in support of the military bases agreement that a patriotic Senate rejected in 1991.