MANILA, Philippines – If the United States will not help the Philippines in case attacked by China, the country might as well abrogate the Mutual Defense Treaty, Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile said during a hearing of the Senate’s foreign relations committee chaired by Senator Loren Legarda.
Enrile explained that the Philippines cannot ask the US’ help on its claim for ownership of the disputed Scarborough Shoal, “but if our vessels or aircraft are attacked by the other power in the Pacific, then we can invoke the Mutual Defense Treaty otherwise it is meaningless. If they will not come to our rescue, it is better for us to abrogate it.”
The Philippines is currently at a stand-off with China after Chinese vessels blocked a Philippine warship from arresting the crew of eight Chinese fishing boats last April 10 at the disputed Scarborough (Panatag) Shoal.
Recently, the US government already affirmed its Mutual Defense Treaty with the Philippines amid growing tension between the Philippines and China.
China already issued a statement that the Philippines should not “internationalize” the issue because it could only complicate the matter.
But Enrile said if the situation in the Scarborough Shoal escalates, “we cannot avoid internationalizing the issue.”
Still, Enrile believed that China will not attempt to fire at any Philippine vessel or aircraft “because we have a treaty alliance with an equal superpower of the world.”
“We can invoke the Mutual Defense Treaty if China will make the error of firing at us and that is under the ambit of the Mutual Defense Treaty [that] any attack on any vessel of the contracting parties within the Pacific Area is an attack on the other,” Enrile said as he noted that the South China sea is within the treaty area.
“So, I think that is why China is very allergic to the matter of raising this internationally and bringing in essentially the US in the picture,” Enrile said.
But leftist groups opposed the idea of American involvement in the dispute. The militant group Bagong Alyansang Makabayan or Bayan said Friday that nothing good can come out of the Philippines’ hanging on to the coattails of the United States in an effort to keep China at bay in the Scarborough Shoal standoff.
In a statement, Bayan secretary general Renato Reyes Jr. warned of complications that may arise from US intervention in the Scarborough Shoal dispute between Manila and Beijing.
“The Philippines should stand up to China without any form of US intervention. We must fully assert our sovereignty, but we cannot rely on one bully in fending off another,” said Reyes.
He said “the problem here is that the US is a bigger bully than China and has greater interests, not just in the Philippines but in the entire East Asia. Washington is using the dispute between the Philippines and China so that it can position itself and advance its hegemonic interests in the region.”
According to the Bayan leader, “we are being used as a pawn, nothing more than a footstool for US regional power play.”
“The US needs every justification to position more troops in the region. The Philippine government is giving the US a reason for more Balikatan war games and more American warships entering Philippine territory and the South China Sea. However, instead of paving the way for the peaceful solution to any dispute, such actions only serve to provoke and increase tensions,” said Reyes.
He expressed doubt the US will ever go to war with China over the Scarborough Shoal standoff between Manila and Beijing.
“The Philippine government is living under the illusion that the US will help us. History shows otherwise. Sixty years of the Mutual Defense Treaty and still our armed forces are backward and poorly equipped. All we receive are second-hand equipment under the Excess Defense Articles Program of the US,” he said.
In the event of a shooting war with China, Reyes claimed, “the US will not immediately come to our aid.”
“There is no automatic retaliation provision in the Mutual Defense Treaty. We are being misled by both the Philippine and US governments when they say that American support is key to resolving the dispute,” he said.
Reyes pressed the Aquino administration to “disclose the terms of deployment of US troops in the country” as he cited news reports that more US soldiers from Okinawa, Japan, would be deployed to the Philippines.
According to Reyes, “the present deployment of American soldiers in the country already goes beyond the temporary character that was originally contemplated under the Philippines-US Visiting Forces Agreement.”
“US troops in Mindanao have been deployed there for more than a decade now. The US wants more war games, more port calls and more rotational troop deployments like the 600 US Special Forces in Mindanao. They may be contemplating setting up facilities in Palawan, Batanes and Cebu. There is a lot of speculation that the US will expand its virtual basing opportunities in the country soon after the high-level talks in Washington,” he said.
Reyes was referring to the scheduled “2 + 2″ meeting on Sept. 30 in Washington between Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario and Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin with their US counterparts, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Defense Secretary Leon Panetta.
“We believe that the Philippine government will use the China card to justify the stationing or virtual basing of US troops in the Philippines. That would violate our sovereignty and set us back some 20 years to a time when we still had American bases in Clark, Pampanga, and Subic, Zambales,” he added.