DND, AFP renew call for defense treaty review in Balikatan 2019

Rambo Talabong

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DND, AFP renew call for defense treaty review in Balikatan 2019
'Remember the treaty was made in 1951, and several things have already transpired,' says Armed Forces of the Philippines chief General Benjamin Madrigal Jr

MANILA, Philippines – In front of the United States ambassador and hundreds of American troopers, the Philippines’ Department of National Defense (DND) renewed its call for the review of the Mutual Defense Treaty  (MDT) between the long-allied countries.

“The geopolitics and security dynamics within the Indo-Pacific region where both our 2 countries are geographically located are evolving so fast, we need to work clearer, more to cope up with these challenges, otherwise our past efforts and sacriffies in ensuring peace and stability for the past several decades will lose their meaning and significance,” said DND Undersecretary for National Defense Cardozo Luna.

He added: “This is the best time for us, the Filipino and American peoples to stay together and work hand in hand, shoulder to shoulder, to review our commitment for peace and prosperity in the region.”

Luna read the prepared speech during the opening ceremony of the 2019 Balikatan joint exercises, an important annual event for the two countries to reinforce their alliance. 

But despite these exercises, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana saw it fit to review the defense treaty because of its “vagueness.” This same sentiment was shared by the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), which was sending 4,000 soldiers to the exercises.

ALLIES. American soldiers pack the Tejeros Hall in Camp Aguinaldo for the Balikatan 2019 opening program. Photo by Rambo Talabong/Rappler

Speaking to reporters after the opening program, AFP Chief of Staff General Benjamin Madrigal Jr said the review will focus on the “semantics” of the 68-year-old agreement.

“We want to have clarifications on some contents because as we said , remember the treaty was made in 1951, and several things have already transpired. For one, the definition of territory, we want to clarify,” Madrigal said.

One of the new threats that have emerged since the signing of the treaty, Madrigal noted, is transnational crime.

Despite the review, Undersecretary Luna stressed that the trust remains, cemented by the recent return of the historic Balangiga Bells, which US troops took as war trophies in the Philippine-American war.

“Secretary Pompeo reassured the interested and curious Filipino people America’s persistent and enduring commitment to maintain peace and stability in the region. And with such happy thoughts from our Filipino people and America’s continued assurance, which they are really longing to hear, this Balikatan 2019 is really a remarkable and historic one,” Luna said.

TOP OFFICERS. Balikatan 2019 exercise directors Lieutenant General Gilbert Gapay and Brigadier General Chris McPhillips hold a press briefing after the opening program. Photo by Rambo Talabong/Rappler

– Rappler.com

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Rambo Talabong

Rambo Talabong covers the House of Representatives and local governments for Rappler. Prior to this, he covered security and crime. He was named Jaime V. Ongpin Fellow in 2019 for his reporting on President Rodrigo Duterte’s war on drugs. In 2021, he was selected as a journalism fellow by the Fellowships at Auschwitz for the Study of Professional Ethics.