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Panatag Shoal

DFA: US will honor 1951 treaty and defend PHL from any attack

May 9, 2012 5:30pm
The United States has publicly declared four times that it would honor the 1951 Mutual Defense Treaty that obliges American troops to help defend the Philippines if it comes under attack, the Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) said on Wednesday. 
 
Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario issued the statement amid a month-long territorial standoff between Chinese and Filipino vessels at the disputed Panatag (Scarborough) Shoal.
 
Del Rosario said US officials publicly declared their commitment to defend the Philippines when he and Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin met with US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Defense Secretary Leon Panetta in Washington last week.   
 
Military backing, however,  would need the congressional approval of both countries, the DFA explained. 

Asked for a reaction to del Rosario's statement, the U.S. Embassy in Manila sent the following statement to GMA News Online:

"Our recent ministerial level 'two-plus-two' meeting in Washington, D.C. on April 30, 2012 provided an opportunity for the United States and the Philippines to consult as allies on a host of bilateral issues, including the evolving regional security situation, our expanding military cooperation, the maturing economic partnership, and people-to-people relations.  Regarding the Mutual Defense Treaty, the Embassy refers you to remarks made by Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton following the meeting in which she stated that 'the United States reaffirms our commitments and obligations under the Mutual Defense Treaty.'  Secretary Clinton further remarked that the U.S.-Philippines alliance 'has helped keep both of our countries secure for more than 60 years, and it has been a bulwark of peace and stability in Asia.'"
 
Obliged to defend
 
It has been Washington’s policy not to intervene in the competing territorial claims by several Asian nations in the South China Sea.
 
However, US government officials in the past have said that under the MDT, the US is obliged to assist the Philippines if its armed forces, public vessels, or aircraft are attacked.
 
On Jan. 6, 1979, US Secretary of State Cyrus Vance wrote to then Foreign Secretary Carlos Romulo, saying the US will respond to “an attack against the metropolitan territory of the Philippines as well as an attack on Philippine forces in the Pacific Area,” Del Rosario said.
 
On May 24, 1999, former US Ambassador to the Philippines Thomas Hubbard mentioned in a letter to then Foreign Secretary Domingo Siazon that ex-Secretary of Defense William Cohen said “the US considers the South China Sea to be part of the Pacific Area.”
 
Under the US Constitution, the US President, as commander-in-chief, may commit its armed forces overseas but must notify the US Congress within 48 hours of such action, as provided for under the US War Powers Resolution of 1973.
 
The same resolution limits such US troop commitment within 60 days, plus a 30-day withdrawal period, without US congressional authorization.
 
This means that a US congressional authorization is needed only if the engagement of US armed forces abroad would go beyond 60 days.
 
Meanwhile, during their June 23, 2011 meeting in Washington Clinton reaffirmed to Del Rosario that the US “will honor its treaty obligations to the Philippines.”
 
Clinton repeated the same commitment last week in both nation’s first-ever high-level security dialogue in Washington.
 
In her remarks to the media after the meeting, Clinton declared that the US “reaffirms our commitment and obligations under the mutual defense treaty.”
 
Tense standoff
 
Manila and Beijing are engaged in a tense standoff in the Scarborough off northwestern Philippines since early last month.
 
Four Chinese government vessels and several fishing boats are facing off against a Philippine Coast Guard ship and a Fisheries patrol craft in the shoal.
    
China is claiming ownership virtually over the entire South China Sea, including the Spratly Islands, a strategic waterway believed to be sitting atop huge gas and oil deposits, and claimed in part or in whole by the Philippines, China, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan.
 
Competing claims over the area have sparked occasional violence and now regarded as a potential regional flashpoint for armed conflict.
    
The Philippines and China both claim ownership to the Scarborough, a ring-shaped coral reef with rocky outcrops encircling a lagoon 124 nautical miles off Zambales province and 472 nautical miles from China’s nearest coast of Hainan province.
    
Manila said the shoal, which it calls Panatag or Bajo de Masinloc, belongs to the Philippines on the basis of a United Nations Convention of the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) rule that gives maritime nations the right to explore, exploit and develop areas within its 200-nautical mile exclusive economic zone.  
 
The UNCLOS was ratified by both China and the Philippines.
    
The Philippines asked China to bring the disputes to international arbitration for resolution, but Beijing resisted, a move which Manila says is an indication that it is not ready to validate its claims. 
 
The Philippines, whose ill-equipped military is no match to China’s, had sought assistance from the United States to bolster its defense capability with additional radars, warships and fighter jets. —Michaela del Callar/VVP/HS/VS, GMA News

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