MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – Supreme Court Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio refuted President Rodrigo Duterte on Wednesday, July 17, saying the Mutual Defense Treaty (MDT) between the Philippines and United States cannot be called on to attack China.
Carpio issued this statement after Duterte "invoked" the defense pact and called upon the US to bring its navy's ships "in front of China."
"I think the President is just joking, just like his jetski joke. The President knows that the Philippines can invoke the Philippine-US Mutual Defense Treaty only if there is an armed attack on Philippine territory or Philippine military ships or aircraft. This has not happened," Carpio said.
"The Treaty operates only for self-defense, not for aggression against another state. A war of aggression is prohibited by the Philippine Constitution and the United Nations Charter," he added.
In an interview with Pastor Apollo Quiboloy on his TV show on Wednesday, Duterte said the United States should enforce the MDT amid rising tensions in the West Philippine Sea.
"Kaya sinabi ko (That's why I said), I'm calling now. Now, I'm calling now America. I am invoking the RP-US pact, and I would like America to gather all their Seventh Fleet in front of China. I'm asking them now and I will join them, and I will ride on the boat where the admiral of the US [is]," Duterte said.
Duterte added he would "drag" Carpio and former foreign secretary Albert Del Rosario along with him and that he would "press the [button]" when in front of China, which would lead to the destruction of Palawan.
"And maybe that will be the end of Palawan. Palawan will be devastated maybe occupied or if there will be nuclear bombs, then we would dry up. So nothing will grow here. We can just wait for just like a big hole coming our way to suck us to eternity," Duterte said.
Former foreign secretary Albert del Rosario echoed Carpio, saying the MDT was a defensive treaty, not a means to call for war. He added starting a war with any country is unconstitutional and violates international law.
"The Philippines can only invoke the Mutual Defense Treaty if there is an armed attack against its territory, or its armed forces, public vessels or aircraft in the Pacific.... However, we all know that none of these have happened. Thus, the President cannot invoke the Mutual Defense Treaty to start a war because the treaty is about the right of countries to defend themselves," Del Rosario said in a statement.
Duterte has repeatedly claimed that China might wage war on the Philippines if it enforced its rights in the West Philippine Sea. Experts have criticized this as a "false option" with Carpio reiterating in the past that "war is not an option and has never been an option."
Carpio stressed that a war of aggression would make leaders of the aggressor state liable for an international crime, which would fall under the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court.
The justice likewise earlier offered at least 6 ways the government could assert the Philippines' rights in the West Philippine Sea aside from war with China. (READ: Carpio rebuts Duterte, offers at least 6 ways to enforce Hague ruling)