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Palace still wants review of PHL-US treaty despite Pompeo assurance

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Malacañang on Friday expressed its support for a review of the 1951 Mutual Defense Treaty with the United States to make it more relevant to the dispute in the South China Sea.

Presidential spokesperson Salvador Panelo issued the remark even after US Secretary of State Michael Pompeo assured that the US would come to the Philippines’ aid if it was attacked in the disputed waters.

He invoked the 68-year-old treaty.

It was the first time that a US government official from the Trump administration clarified that the South China Sea, where Manila and Beijing are locked in years-long territorial row, is covered by the treaty between Manila and Washington.

"There may be some kinks in that treaty that need to be clarified. It's much better perhaps that it's clear cut in the treaty itself. So I think there is still a need to review despite the policy statement," Panelo said at a news conference.

"We will have to evaluate but we are pleased to note that the US has made a policy statement with respect to attacks on a Philippine vessel to be deemed as an attack against the US," he said.  

There have been apprehensions that the US might balk at helping the Philippines if its forces were attacked in the West Philippine Sea, an area in the South China Sea being claimed by Manila, because the treaty only referred to “metropolitan" or "island territories" of the Philippines.

Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana had earlier indicated the need to review the treaty to find out whether to "maintain it, strengthen it, or scrap it."

Early this month, Lorenzana said the US will be sending a high-level delegation to talk with Philippine representatives with regard to the review.

Pompeo had a courtesy call on President Rodrigo Duterte on Thursday night at the Villamor Air Base in Pasay City.

During the meeting, Panelo said the President "highlighted prospects of stronger and more meaningful ties" with the US, particularly on defense and security, peace and order, regional stability, as well as the rule of law in the conduct of activities in the West Philippine Sea to prevent escalation of tensions among countries involved.

Duterte then discussed ways to further strengthen cooperation between the two countries in countering terrorism and violent extremism.

He also thanked the US for the return of Balangiga bells last December and reaffirmed the strength of Philippines-US alliance, according to Panelo.

Pompeo, meanwhile, reaffirmed the US' commitment to strengthen cooperation and deepen engagement with the Philippines on matters of mutual interest and common concern at the regional and global arena, including the rule of law and need for a rules-based regime in the West Philippine Sea.

"The US Secretary of State also assured the Philippines of the nation's support," said Panelo, who was present in the meeting.

Other Philippine officials who joined meeting were Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea, Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr., Philippine Ambassador to the US Jose Manuel Romualdez and Lorenzana. —NB, GMA News

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