Review of Philippine-US defense pact sought
Apparently skeptical of US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s declaration that the United States would “remain in the corner of the Philippines,” senators on Thursday said they would review two accords with the United States relating to national security.
“They (US officials) have made those kinds of pronouncements in the past,” said Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile.
Enrile recalled that in his 17-year stint as defense minister, “whenever we have a security problem and we try to call upon the US to help us, a lot of arguments are raised.”
Senators said the 60-year-old 1951 Mutual Defense Treaty (MDT) needed to be reviewed and updated, as well as the 10-year-old Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA), as they were lopsided in favor of the US.
No automatic assistance
In case the Philippines faces an imminent threat from a third country, it cannot expect “automatic assistance” from the US since the MDT does not call for it, Enrile said.
Senator Joker Arroyo said “if there is an attack on Philippine territory,” the MDT does not require a quick response from the US.
He noted that the treaty requires that the US follow constitutional processes before it can respond.
“It says that there has to be a declaration of war, then (the US) Congress has to concur. That’s how it works,” he said.
By contrast, Arroyo said, a similar defense pact signed by members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (Nato) carries an “automatic retaliation” provision.
“Under the Nato, an attack on one member country is considered an attack on Nato itself and therefore the US must respond,” he noted.
Senator Gregorio Honasan, vice chairman of the defense committee, complained that while the US is “obliged to support” the Philippines in case of an attack, “exactly what kind of support it would be, how soon we can expect it and even how much” is not clear.
He also said the VFA between the two countries clearly favors the US only.
“American forces have been visiting us for 10 years now. The agreement is not clear, can [our forces] also visit them?” he said.
Arroyo said the Philippines and the US have a “rich man-poor man” relationship.
“We don’t want to offend the Americans but how much do we get here every year? It’s a pittance compared to (what) other countries (give us),” he said.
Can’t be amended
Senator Loren Legarda, the foreign relations committee chairperson, said the MDT cannot be amended but a supplemental agreement could be attached to update it.
She said hearings could start early next year to assess “what are the potential flashpoints in our region, what are the security threats, if any, and what kind of assistance have we [received] in the long span of the enforcement of the MDT.”
She said the MDT can be reviewed, assessed and updated, not necessarily abolished.
“We don’t want to cut relations with any country be it small, big, powerful or not,” she said.
The MDT also needed tweaking, she said, as national security “should go beyond defense and military cooperation. It should also include climate change, environment and economic diplomacy.”
Honasan said the Philippines may need to start with an upgrade and amendment of its own national security policy.
“Our National Defense Act is even older at 70 years old. It did not consider the concept of terrorism at that time. It needs to adapt to the new security environment,” he noted.
Originally posted at 10:37 pm | Thursday, November 17, 2011
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