Mutual Defense Treaty

Marcos: Any Filipino death from foreign attack triggers US-PH defense pact

Dwight de Leon

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Marcos: Any Filipino death from foreign attack triggers US-PH defense pact

File photo of President Ferdinand R. Marcos Jr.

Noel Pabalate/PPA Pool

In April, Marcos said the Philippines' Mutual Defense Treaty with the US would be invoked if a foreign power kills a Filipino serviceman. He now expands the list to include any Filipino citizen, and says their death would be 'very close to... an act of war.'

MANILA, Philippines – President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. expanded the list of people whose potential deaths from a foreign attack would result in Manila invoking its defense pact with the United States, as tensions between the Philippines and China in the West Philippine Sea escalate further.

“What would happen if there was an incident that ended up killing a Filipino serviceman, be it a coast guard, or in the military or navy? That would certainly increase the level of response, and if… not only a serviceman, but a Filipino citizen is killed by a willful act, that is I think very, very close to what we define as an act of war, and therefore, we would respond accordingly,” President Marcos said on Friday night, May 31, after his high-profile address at the Shangri-La Dialogue, Asia’s premier defense summit, in Singapore.

“Our treaty partners, I believe, also hold that same standard when a joint action will be undertaken in support of any such incident in the Philippines,” he added. “Once we get to that point, we would have crossed the rubicon. Is that a red line? Almost certainly, it’s going to be a red line.”

Marcos: Any Filipino death from foreign attack triggers US-PH defense pact

Manila and Washington signed the Mutual Defense Treaty (MDT) in 1951, but the conditions that would trigger the agreement have always remained vague.

Just last month, Marcos said in a media forum that the MDT between the Philippines and the US would be invoked if a Filipino serviceman was killed in an attack by any foreign power.

His latest clarification means that the MDT would now cover even the deaths of fishermen, journalists, and other civilians at the hands of a foreign entity.

The statement also came after China laid out new rules that would allow the detention of foreigners suspected of trespassing. As Beijing makes expansive claims in the South China Sea, it has accused vessels of trespassing even though they are in the exclusive economic zone of the Philippines.

Marcos said on Thursday, May 30, that China’s new policy was “worrisome.”

Friday’s event is monumental for Marcos, who became the first Filipino leader to deliver the keynote speech of the Shangri-La Dialogue, which is attended annually by top defense and security officials and experts from various countries, including the US and China.

Marcos: Any Filipino death from foreign attack triggers US-PH defense pact

Ahead of the forum’s opening on Friday, Washington and Beijing’s defense chiefs met in Singapore for their first face-to-face conversation since 2022. –

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Dwight de Leon

Dwight de Leon is a multimedia reporter who covers President Ferdinand Marcos Jr., the Malacañang, and the Commission on Elections for Rappler.