Lawmakers lament US ‘hands-off’ positionBy Cynthia D. Balana, Gil C. Cabacungan
Philippine Daily Inquirer
Lawmakers on Tuesday begrudged the United States for declaring that it would not take sides in the territorial dispute between the Philippines and China.
Representative Roilo Golez said that while it was “reassuring” that US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton reaffirmed Washington’s commitment under the Mutual Defense Treaty, he found this “inadequate.”
“Considering the general security situation in the Pacific area, which is now the declared linchpin of new US foreign policy, US assistance to a declared ally like the Philippines should have been much more,” said Golez, chairman of the House defense committee.
He said that under the treaty, US intervention could not be “immediately invoked in case of an attack on any of the disputed land features in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea), but only in the event of an armed attack on the Philippines’ metropolitan territory and armed forces, public vessels or aircraft in the Pacific.”
The Parañaque congressman also said that the transfer of a second cutter to the Philippine Navy was nothing new as this had been in the pipeline for months.
He lamented how other US allies, such as Taiwan, Bahrain, Poland and Pakistan, had obtained decommissioned but still reliable fast frigates that would have been better suited for the Philippines in patrolling its ocean boundaries.
House Deputy Majority Leader Roman Romulo said that the standoff at Scarborough Shoal underscored the need for a strong Philippine Navy capable of asserting the nation’s sovereignty.
“Effective diplomacy is the best approach to disagreements over our territorial waters. A stronger Navy will surely reinforce our diplomacy,” said Romulo, a senior member of the House committee on foreign affairs.
Romulo lamented that the Philippine Navy’s largest warship—the frigate BRP Gregorio del Pilar—is no more than a 45-year-old decommissioned US Coast Guard cutter. The ship was retrofitted and turned over to the Philippines last year under the US Excess Defense Article Program.
Bayan Muna Representative Neri Colmenares, in a text message, said Clinton’s statement that the United States would stay neutral in the territorial dispute between Manila and Beijing proved that Washington was “only thinking of its interest and would not want to endanger its economic and diplomatic ties with China.”
He said that Clinton’s declaration could even embolden China to “start a limited war in the shoal just as it did to Vietnam.”