Sotto banks on Mutual Defense Treaty with US amid Chinese maritime militia in disputed sea

Job Manahan, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Mar 27 2021 08:12 PM

Sotto banks on Mutual Defense Treaty with US amid Chinese maritime militia in disputed sea 1
US Marines arrive in an amphibious assault vehicle during the amphibious landing exercises of the US-Philippines war games promoting bilateral ties at a military camp in Zambales province, April 11, 2019. Eloisa Lopez, Reuters/File

MANILA - Senate President Vicente Sotto III on Saturday said he is "comfortable" relying on the country's Mutual Defense Treaty (MDT) with the United States amid the presence of a Chinese maritime militia fleet in the disputed West Philippine Sea. 

In a public briefing, Sotto claimed that China has no intention to invade the country, and hailed President Rodrigo Duterte's supposed strategy of having friendly ties with Asia's largest economy.

"Kapag tiningnan mo ang lakas ng mga army ng buong mundo, ano, yung kapitbahay natin nasa… top 10 eh, eh tayo baka nasa number 70 or 80 ano... ang ilalaban natin, yung Mutual Defense Treaty," the senator explained during the virtual presser.

(When you look at the military might of other countries globally, our neighbors will fall under the top 10. Meanwhile, we are at number 70 or 80. What we have is the mutual defense treaty.) 

"Kahit isang maliit na bangka o barko na pag-aari ng gobyerno, na nagkaroon ng aggression from any country other than the US, the... Mutual Defense Treaty kicks in automatically, ganoon ‘yun eh. So talagang, komportable ako doon dahil I rely on that," he added.

(Even when a country aside from the US touch or become aggressive over a small boat or vessel that the government owns, the Mutual Defense Treaty kicks in automatically. I am comfortable with that and I rely on that.) 

Duterte in early February said that the US, the Philippines' longtime ally, should pay the country because the MDT is a "shared responsibility" between two nations. 

He also unilaterally cancelled the Visiting Forces Agreement with the US last year, in an angry response to an ally being denied a US visa. The withdrawal period has been twice extended, however, to create what Philippine officials have said is a window for better terms to be agreed.

But Sotto said this does not mean that the Philippines is disregarding its alliance with the global superpower when the Duterte administration decided to deepen its relationship with China. 

"Tama yung diskarte ni President Duterte, kung [uulit] tayo sa China na balang araw ito’y maging kaaway natin, o [kakaawayin] natin, tama ang diskarte niya, you keep your enemies close to your chest. Keep your enemies close kaya kinakaibigan natin 'yun," he said. 

(President Duterte's strategy is correct. If we become enemies with China in the future, his strategy of 'keeping your enemies close to your chest' will work.) 

"Pero hindi natin aalisin yung pakikipagkaibigan natin sa Amerika na long-time na kaibigan natin sa tagal ng panahon."

(This does not mean that we will remove our friendly ties with the US, which is our long-time ally.) 

Around 200 Chinese maritime militia vessels were spotted by the Philippine Coast Guard on March 7 around a Philippines-claimed reef, with China's embassy in Manila claiming that the fleet is composed of fishing boats allegedly taking shelter because of bad weather. 

The international community, however, did not buy this, urging China to recall the vessels, saying these pose a threat to regional and global security. 

The Philippines earlier protested against a new Chinese law allowing its coast guard to fire on foreign vessels, describing it as a "threat of war".

Former Supreme Court Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio also warned the government on vaccine donations from China, alleging that it is trying to "soften the blow" of seizing the West Philippine Sea by donating the vaccine.