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MANILA, Philippines – If US President Barack Obama assured Japan of support in its territorial dispute with China, he should do the same with the Philippines.
Senate Majority Leader Alan Peter Cayetano called on the Philippine government to seek a similar assurance from the United States – that the Mutual Defense Treaty between the two countries cover Manila’s maritime dispute with Beijing.
Cayetano was responding to Obama’s statement in Japan Thursday that Tokyo’s disputed islands with Beijing fall under their security treaty.
“I ask that our government negotiators, the people dealing with the Obama administration make it clear that a statement by the US President would be very welcome, also stating that those islands that belong to the Philippines will be covered by the Mutual Defense Treaty,” Cayetano said in press briefing Thursday, April 24.
Cayetano said he hopes Obama will make the statement during his visit to the Philippines next week because past statements from “lower level” US officials were “not that clear.”
At the start of his 4-nation tour of Asia, Obama said in Tokyo that US troops will defend Japan if China tried to take disputed islands in the East China Sea by force. He clarified though that this was not a new position but was a “consistent part” of the US-Japan security treaty.
Cayetano said the Philippines “needs” a similar commitment, pointing out that the country was one of the closest and oldest allies of the US in the region. The Philippines is a former American colony.
“That’s what Filipinos want and need at this point in time: a very clear statement from the United States through their President saying that these islands are Philippine territory so if they’re attacked or they go to war, under the Mutual Defense Treaty, we are obligated to come to their aid,” he said.
Manila signed a Mutual Defense Treaty with Washington in 1951, which states that the two countries shall separately and jointly, by self-help and mutual aid, develop capacity to resist an armed attack.
The Philippines is locked in a territorial dispute with China over parts of the South China Sea (West Philippine Sea). The topic is expected to be high on the agenda of Obama’s visit to Manila on April 28 and 29, with the Philippines and the US negotiating a military deal that may be concluded in time for his arrival.
The US President is travelling to Japan, South Korea, Malaysia and the Philippines as part of his administration’s “pivot” of military, diplomatic and economic resources to Asia. The policy is widely seen as a response to China’s increasing assertiveness and growing power.
Clash on need for Senate OK
Senator Antonio Trillanes IV, who acted as a backdoor negotiator with China, said Obama’s visit to the Philippines should not be linked with the territorial dispute.
“The visit of President Obama is not, I believe, solely to guarantee protection in relation to the territorial disputes. In fact, they (US) were very, very clear that in our particular territorial dispute, they cannot intervene so his visit here may not be connected with that at all,” Trillanes told reporters on Wednesday.
Trillanes said that the Philippines has yet to hear any new statement from the US assuring support in its territorial row with China. He said Obama’s visit was instead aimed at strengthening regional security ties and promoting the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade deal with other allies.
The two senators expressed opposing views on the proposed enhanced defense cooperation agreement that will increase US rotational presence in the Philippines, and help improve the Philippine military’s capability.
Echoing constitutional law expert Senator Miriam Defensor Santiago, Cayetano said the deal must pass Senate scrutiny. “My stand is if they will have structures in our bases, it will need to be approved by the Senate.”
Trillanes though said that the deal does not require Senate approval and is only an executive agreement. “There is no new concept being introduced so it doesn’t require a new treaty and therefore it will not need the ratification of the Senate.”
Under the 1987 Constitution, the Senate must give its concurrence to treaties that the President ratifies. The Aquino administration argued that the military deal merely implements previous treaties of the Philippines with the US.
Cayetano said that in negotiating the deal, the Philippines should “not act like beggars” and aim to benefit from it to strengthen its military, one of Asia’s weakest.
A former navy officer, Trillanes said the agreement is bound to boost the military’s capability.
“Coming from the Armed Forces, I’ve seen the benefits of the exercises with the Americans. The more exercises, the more frequent they are, the better for the Armed Forces,” he said. – Rappler.com