MANILA, Philippines - Two senior lawmakers see nothing new achieved by the "2+2" meeting of the foreign and defense ministers of the United States and the Philippines over Manila's claim to Bajo de Masinloc or Scarborough Shoal.
Nevertheless, Senate foreign relations committee chair Loren Legarda and lower House defense committee vice chair Roilo Golez both welcomed the meeting of Secretaries Albert Del Rosario and Voltaire Gazmin with US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Leon Panetta in Washington Tuesday.
The Philippine and US officials affirmed their commitments to the Mutual Defense Treaty (MDT), as well as opposition to the threat and use of force to resolve the Scarborough shoal dispute.
Legarda said, "Walang bago diyan. Nakasaad sa Mutual Defense Treaty, nakasaad din sa VFA (Visiting Forces Agreement) kaya ito'y reiteration of present security arrangements. Maganda sa 2 magkaibigan at mahusay sa 2 allies na sila nag-uusap para ipaalala ang kanilang pinag-usapan. Iyun ang nagyari. Walang bago nilagdaan na agreement."
Legarda and Golez noted that the invocation of the MDT is a sign that the US will come to the defense of the Philippines if the latter is attacked.
"Susunod ang US at Philippines sa MDT at iyan ay nakasulat diyan anuman interperasyon," Legarda said.
Golez said, "Mahalaga sa statement ni Secretary Clinton na US supports."
MDT and the Scarborough dispute
He believes that the MDT cannot be used for conficts over disputed areas like Bajo de Masinloc, something Legarda disagreed with.
"Isa sa mga unang binitiwang salita ay reaffirmation ng MDT bagamat pagdating sa disputed land features, di puwedeng invoke MDT pero klarong klaro sa MDT na pag anumang barko ng gubyerno eroplano ay maatake, ito'y konsidera na isang attack at tutulong kabilang panig," he said.
Legarda, however, said Bajo de Masinloc is clearly within the Philippines' exclusive economic zone "in our maps and on effective jursidiction and occupation."
She said even if China objects, there are many ways to resolve the dispute without the use of force.
They include elevating the matter to the International Tribunal on the Law of the Sea, the International Court of Justice, and the creation of a conciliatory tribunal.
Legarda, however, said the statements from the meeting of the 4 Philippine and US officials should not be seen as a rebuke of China.
"Ang ating hangarin ay hangarin ng lahat ng peace-loving bansa kaya ang pagpahayag ng world power ay karapat dapat lang, hindi pagpaparinig sa isang bansa. Simply a reiteration of the belief in the rule of law, democracy."
More Navy ships
Golez said the US should give more than just a second Hamilton-class cutter scheduled for delivery later this year, considering the security context in the Southeast Asian region.
He said the delivery is merely part of the long-term modernization of the Armed Forces and not a form of assistance over the Scarborough Shoal dispute.
"Bagamat welcome sa atin iyan, dapat mas maganda pa riyan padalang military asset. Mga eksperto sa security nagsasabi na kanilang FFG, fast frigate guided misisle na decommisisoned na na puwedeng transfer sa Philippine Navy. Iyan ang mas nababagay sa misyon sa West Philippine Sea at Pacific Ocean para lalong maging malakas. Itong mga asset na ito binigay na sa Bahrain, Poland, Pakistan na di ganun kalawak territorial sea at hindi ganun ka-strategic," he said.
Golez believes Clinton will discuss the Scarborugh shoal dispute with China when she meets with the Chinese foreign minister later Tuesday, especially since she has underscored the importance of the freedom of navigation.
He fears the shoal could be developed as a platform for modern ships and aircraft and be used to restrict the freedom of navigation in the Palawan Passage, which is used by 200 commercial ships daily.
Earlier Tuesday, Clinton said the United States reaffirmed its commitment and obligations under the MDT.
"While we do not take sides on the competing sovereignty claims to land features in the South China Sea, as a Pacific power we have a national interest in freedom of navigation, the maintenance of peace and stability, respect for international law, and the unimpeded, lawful commerce across our sea lanes," she said. "The United States supports a collaborative diplomatic process by all those involved for resolving the various disputes that they encounter. We oppose the threat or use of force by any party to advance its claims. And we will remain in close contact with our ally, the Philippines."