MANILA -- International law expert Harry Roque believes the United States will not come to the defense of the Philippines if its dispute with China over the West Philippine Sea escalates into an armed conflict since Washington's priority is its own national interest.
In an interview on radio dzMM on Wednesday, Roque said the primary interest of the US is only to maintain "freedom of navigation" in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea), which is home to some of the world's busiest shipping lanes.
"Malinaw po na gagalaw lang ang Amerika kapag naapektuhan ang kanyang pambansang interes. At pagdating po dito sa West Philippine Sea, hindi po yan para saklolohan tayo o proteksyunan ang ating teritoryo ng Spratlys kundi kapag ang China nga ay nanghimasok na at nakialam sa freedom of navigation," Roque said.
He pointed out that US President Barack Obama, during his 2-day state visit in the Philippines, did not promise nor commit that US will defend the Philippines if it is attacked by China in the disputed area, and instead merely reiterated the Mutual Defense Treaty signed by the two nations in 1951.
Obama had said, "Our commitment to defend the Philippines is iron-clad and the US will keep that commitment because allies never stand alone."
"Wala po yung hinahanap natin na 'Reresbakan namin kayo pag inatake kayo ng China sa West Philippine Sea,'" Roque said.
He also noted that Obama's remarks in Manila were far from what he stated in the case of Japan, which is also embroiled in a dispute with China over the Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea.
Obama had vowed to defend Japan if China attacks over the two nations' territorial dispute.
According to Roque, this is because the West Philippine Sea is not covered by the Mutual Defense Treaty.
He said Article 5 of the Mutual Defense Treaty states that the US will only come to the assistance of the Philippines if its metropolitan territory or island territories under its jurisdiction in the Pacific area are attacked.
"Ang West Philippine Sea po ay hindi metropolitan territory. Malayo po yan sa ating archipelago at saka hindi po siya nasa Pacific," he said.
"So inulit lang po niya (Obama) yung nakasaad sa Mutual Defense Treaty na alam naman po natin na hindi ma-iinvoke pagdating diyan sa sigalot sa West Philippine Sea," he added.
'SOUTH CHINA SEA PART OF PACIFIC AREA'
The lawyer's statement, however, runs counter to that of the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA), which said that the Pacific area covers the West Philippine Sea.
"In 1999, in a diplomatic letter, the United States affirmed that the South China Sea is considered as part of the Pacific area," Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario said.
Therefore, the US will come to the Philippines' defense if it is attacked, the DFA said.
Meanwhile, Roque said he also believes the US is not ready to go to war against China, noting that its biggest share of foreign investors come from Beijing and vice versa.
"Sa tingin ko po hindi po handa ang mga Amerikano sa ganitong scenario," he said.
He also raised the possibility of Manila being a "magnet" for attacks in case the US goes to war with other nations or is attacked by terrorists.
"Ibig sabihin po niyan eh pwede po tayong atakihin ng ibang mga kalaban ng Amerika," Roque said.