MANILA, Philippines - Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario on Monday said that under the Mutual Defense Treaty, the United States is under obligation to defend the West Philippine Sea in case of an attack.
Del Rosario said the matter of the Pacific area covering the West Philippine Sea was the subject of an official exchange between Philippine and US officials.
"If we are attacked in the West Philippine Sea that would be included under the scope of the Mutual Defense Treaty and that’s covered by a diplomatic note," Del Rosario revealed on ANC's "Headstart."
The statement comes as the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) confirmed that three Chinese vessels remain in the Panatag or Scarborough Shoal. This even as the Philippines has already withdrawn its ships from the disputed area.
Del Rosario said they are leaving it up to President Aquino to decide whether to send Philippine vessels back to what they insist is part of the country's sovereign area of jurisdiction.
"There are (three) Chinese vessels there according to our reconnaissance efforts... We're leaving it up to the President to decide whether or not and when to send back our ships."
Del Rosario said China and the Philippines remain open to pursuing a top-level meeting after a failed meeting between President Aquino and Chinese President Hu Jintao on the sidelines of the APEC in Russia early this month.
"I think both parties are generally interested on meeting and open to discussions and moving bilateral relations forward. They expressed their disappointment and said we should look in the future for another window and I think that would be very useful and we agreed on that."
The DFA chief also brushed-off claims of a diplomatic snub from China.
"It was suggested (by China) and they agreed... and we followed that up with a request for a fallback and that was as well approved... One of the reasons was there was dedicated attention needed for the earthquake China experienced at that particular time."
Del Rosario said no country is expected to take sides in finding a settlement to the territorial dispute but added that they take comfort in the six-point "Declaration Of Principles" agreed upon by the claimant countries.
"I think that appropriately expressed the position of the countries in terms of how disputes should be approached," he said.
On Brady's replacement
Del Rosario said they are also awaiting the return of incumbent Ambassador to China Sonia Brady to the country after she suffered a stroke.
He said they have submitted recommendations to the President on who would be best suited to take over Brady if she is not well enough to serve the post following her recent stroke.
"We have submitted to the President a list of names... the recomendees we have are senior career officials with good experience. Today, any one of them will do an equally good job."
He also said the DFA continues to implement forced repatration in conflict-torn syria.
Del Rosario downplayed fears Filipinos will be the target of anti-American sentiment amid Muslim protests in Libya, sparked by a controversial anti-Islam movie.
"We're assessing the situation very carefully... We're not doing anything to get people out. There are less than 2,000 Filipinos in Libya... It is an anti-American sentiment, and we don't look like Americans."
Del Rosario said the DFA is offering to replace defective or poor quality passports for free at the main office of the Office of Consular Affairs.
"We're asking people to come and submit their passports, and we will reissue at no cost."
Given more efficient operations, he said applications for new passports can no longer be coursed through travel agencies beginning next year.