Lorenzana: Ambiguity in US-PH defense treaty will bring chaos during a crisis

/ 11:28 AM March 05, 2019

MANILA, Philippines — Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said ambiguities in the decades-old Mutual Defense Treaty (MDT) will only create confusion or chaos during critical times rather than serve as deterrence, underscoring the need for a review of the treaty.

“I do not believe that ambiguity or vagueness of the Philippine-US Mutual Defense Treaty will serve as a deterrent. In fact, it will cause confusion and chaos during a crisis,” the defense chief said in a statement on Tuesday.


Lorenzana’s statement was contrary to the position of Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr., who said last week there is no need to review the treaty. For Locsin, “vagueness lies the best deterrence” when it comes to the MDT.

“The fact that the security environment now is so vastly different and much more complex than the bipolar security construct of the era when the MDT was written necessitates a review of the Treaty,” Lorenzana, however, pointed out, even citing “The U.S. did not stop” China’s aggressive seizure of a Philippine-claimed reef in the mid-1990s.


U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, during his recent visit to the Philippines, finally made the long-awaited clarification that the MDT covers the South China Sea.

The Philippines and the U.S. are bound by the MDT, signed on Aug. 30, 1951, which calls for both states to come to each other’s defense against an armed attack. But the US commitment to defend the Philippines if the attack involves disputed territories has persistently raised doubts in recent years.

For Lorenzana, the U.S. is more likely to be involved in a “shooting war” in the disputed South China Sea than the Philippines, which he foresees would not engage any country in a war in the contested territories, especially since U.S. forces have stepped up so-called freedom of navigation patrols in the strategic waterway.

And Lorenzana said his concern is not the lack of reassurance by the U.S., but the likelihood of the Philippines being dragged into such conflict.

“It is not the lack of reassurance that worries me. It is being involved in a war that we do not seek and do not want,” Lorenzana said.

“The Philippines is not in a conflict with anyone and will not be at war with anyone in the future. But the United States, with the increased and frequent passage of its naval vessels in the West Philippine Sea, is more likely to be involved in a shooting war. In such a case and on the basis of the MDT, the Philippines will be automatically involved,” he added.

He said the MDT should have been reviewed in the early 90s when the U.S. bases agreement was terminated and the Philippines “lost its security umbrella.”


”A couple of years after the U.S. left the bases, the Chinese began their aggressive actions in Mischief Reef–not an armed attack but it was aggression just the same. The U.S. did not stop it,” Lorenzana said.

Panganiban, internationally known as Mischief Reef, is within the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone, but China has occupied it for decades. Before its transformation into the largest of the seven artificial islands in the Spratly archipelago, it was a small outpost that China claimed in the 1990s as a shelter for its fishermen. With reports from Associated Press /muf/kga

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TAGS: MDT, Philippines, South China Sea, US
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