MANILA - The Philippines cannot invoke its defense treaty with the US and ask the Americans to start a war unless the country is attacked, Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. said Thursday.
He made the statement in response to Sen. Imee Marcos' query on whether or not the Philippines could ask the US to shoo away the Chinese from the Scarborough Shoal in the disputed West Philippine Sea.
Locsin assured Marcos that Washington would go to war for Manila, but emphasized that the nearly 70-year-old pact should not be treated like "an invitation to war."
Under the treaty, the Philippines and the US are bound to come to the aid of the other in the event of an attack.
"If they do not go to war for the Philippines... their credibility [in the international community] will be tarnished," Locsin said.
"[But] You cannot ask that a country go to war unless we suffer an attack," he said.
In a Senate hearing on the Philippine-US Visiting Forces Agreement, Marcos had raised the possibility of testing US commitment to the 1951 Mutual Defense Treaty by asking Washington to take back Scarborough Shoal from the Chinese on the Philippines' behalf.
"Puwede din po ba natin hingin sa Amerika na palayasin na ang Tsina sa Scarborough Shoal? Sapagkat mula pa nung panahon ng Kastila atin naman 'yan... Nung kinupkop ng Amerika ang Pilipinas, bahagi ng teritoryo na kinuha nila bilang colony nila ang Scarborough Shoal," Marcos said.
(Can we ask America to evict China from Scarborough Shoal? Because during Spanish times, that was ours... When the US invaded the Philippines, part of the territory they took as part of their colony was Scarborough Shoal.)
The Philippines was locked in a standoff with China in the Scarborough Shoal in 2012 after Filipino authorities flagged the presence of Chinese fishermen poaching in the area, which is within the country's exclusive economic zone.
The US responded by brokering a deal for the Philippines and China to withdraw their respective ships from the resource-rich fishing ground. Manila pulled out BRP Gregorio del Pilar, its largest warship, but Beijing stayed put.
Filipino fishermen have since been reporting time and again that Chinese vessels were shooing them away from the shoal.
A July 2016 ruling of an arbitral tribunal had classified the area common fishing ground. China has ignored the ruling, asserting indisputable sovereignty over nearly all of the South China Sea.
In April 2019, President Rodrigo Duterte accused the US of refusing to go to war “about something so small."
"America was scared. They knew that a war about something so small is not worth it," Duterte said in a speech during the campaign sortie of PDP-Laban in Agusan del Norte.
China had "outfoxed" the Philippines in control over Scarborough Shoal in 2012, National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon said in an interview in July 2019.
The Senate held an inquiry into the VFA after President Rodrigo Duterte asked that it be terminated over the cancelation of his long-time ally Sen. Ronald Dela Rosa's US visa.
During the hearing, Locsin said canceling the treaty would have a negative effect on the Philippines, even as he pushed for a review of the agreement. He cited the country's many benefits from the treaty, including billions worth of military aid.