Talks on the cards to review US-Philippine defence pact

Philippine officials have said that the treaty was vague on the US commitment to defend the Philippines in case a third country attacks its territories in the South China Sea.
Philippine officials have said that the treaty was vague on the US commitment to defend the Philippines in case a third country attacks its territories in the South China Sea.PHOTO: AFP

MANILA (PHILIPPINE DAILY INQUIRER/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - Philippine and United States officials on Thursday (Feb 7) confirmed that talks were being planned to review and possibly revise the 1951 Mutual Defence Treaty (MDT) between the two countries.

But the timetable and provisions being considered for revision have yet to be agreed on, according to Foreign Under-secretary Enrique Manalo, Defence Under-secretary Cardozo Luna and US Ambassador to the Philippines Sung Kim.

In his remarks at a think tank conference on US-Philippine relations, Mr Luna called for a review of the treaty to make it relevant to modern geopolitical issues, including the country's dispute with China in the South China Sea.

Mr Luna did not say what provisions in the treaty should be modified.

The Duterte administration officials have said that the treaty was vague on the US commitment to defend the Philippines in case a third country attacks its territories in the South China Sea.

Mr Kim said Washington was amenable to "taking a close look" at the treaty, but pointed out that both sides already had other cooperation mechanisms, two of them being the Visiting Forces Agreement and the Enhanced Defence Cooperation Agreement.

"We would welcome taking a close look at the treaty to see whether we can make any adjustments to make it even better than what it is now," Mr Kim told reporters in an interview.

"(There are) various mechanisms and frameworks, so I think we will just continue to stay closely engaged and talk to each other. And if there are any adjustments that would be useful, certainly, we would welcome an opportunity to make adjustments," he added.

Mr Manalo said the Philippines was "continuing discussions to strengthen (its) alliance with the US" and that even US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo had affirmed the US commitments under the MDT.

Philippine Foreign Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr met Mr Pompeo and National Security Adviser John Bolton when he visited the United States in December, Mr Manalo said.

Asked if the US would soon be sending officials to talk about the review of the MDT, Mr Kim said that "a series of visitors (was expected) throughout this year", but it was still to be decided whether any particular visit would focus on it.

American and Filipino officials, he said, are ready "to move forward any discussions about any aspect of the relationship, including the MDT".

The two-day think tank conference organised by the US Embassy, the Asia Foundation and the Ateneo School of Government, gathered experts to discuss shared issues on security priorities and defense cooperation, as well as trade, development, technology and infrastructure trends that will shape US-Philippine ties in the future.