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 Clarifying  the provisions of  our PH-US defense pact 

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e-cartoon-jun-19-2019In the wake of  various  incidents involving Philippine claims and interests in the South China Sea (SCS), that  body of water west of the Philippines  that separates us from China in the north, Vietnam in the west, and Brunei and Malaysia in the south, some Philippine officials have  voiced a need to review the Mutual  Defense Treaty between the US and the Philippines.

Last Friday, US Ambassador Sung  Kim, in a television interview,  reiterated the US commitment  to  honor the provisions of the treaty which binds the two countries  to support  each other in case of an armed  attack on either of them.

 Article IV  of the Mutual Defense  Treaty of August 30, 1951,  provides: “Each  party  recognizes  that an armed attack in the Pacific Area on either of the parties would be dangerous  to its own peace and security  and declares that it would  act  to meet the common dangers in accordance  with established processes.”

Article V adds: “For the purpose of Article IV,  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 or on its armed  forces, public vessels, or aircraft in the Pacific.”

 Secretary  of  Defense  Delfin  Lorenzana  has proposed  a  review of the treaty to clear  up many provisions  that  could  be  open to  possible clashing interpretations.  For example, it specifically covers island  territories  under either country’s jurisdiction in the Pacific. Would that include islands in the South China Sea,  which appears to be a body of water west of the Philippines,  distinct from the Pacific  Ocean  which lies east of us?

Ambassador  Kim  in his TV interview, said US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has stated that the South China Sea is part  of the Pacific and therefore, the treaty applies to any armed attack in the SCS. If this is indeed  the  interpretation of the State Department,  it  would  be best to put it in black and white in a review of the treaty.

The current treaty also refers to “island  territories  currently  under its  jurisdiction.”  Panatag,  118 miles  west of  Zambales,  is  not  Philippine territory but within its 200-mile Exclusive Economic Zone. Recto Bank, 85 miles west of Palawan, is also claimed but not established Philippine territory. Are they covered by the treaty?

This is, in fact, the root of our current dispute with China. We have  claims  on  certain islands  and  so  do Vietnam, Malaysia, and  Brunei  on  other islands,  while  China  claims virtually the entire South China Sea under  an  old nine-dash-line  map.  In  earlier times, nations settled such claims with war, but  in this nuclear age,  war is out of the question.  The  conflicting claims can only be settled by negotiation, hopefully  with  United  Nations  aid.

We are thus proceeding cautiously on current issues in the South China Sea. We shall similarly proceed with caution in our talks with the US on amending and implementing our  Mutual Defense Treaty.  Clearer  treaty provisions will help avert  future misunderstandings  and  serve  to restrain  any rash action   by any nation.

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