MANILA - Former senator Juan Ponce Enrile on Monday claimed the United States will not be able to protect the Philippines if hostilities with China erupt in the West Philippine Sea.
Enrile, in a meeting with President Rodrigo Duterte, claimed the the area is not covered by the Mutual Defense Treaty (MDT) between the Philippine and the US.
According to Enrile, who served as defense minister under the Marcos regime, American officials at that time told him that the West Philippine Sea or South China Sea is outside the MDT area.
"Unang-una, kung basahin mo 'yung Mutual Defense Treaty, ang sinasakop lang noong kasunduan natin sa Amerika ay kung may atake sa ating mga fighter planes o sa ating mga barkong pandigma sa Pasipiko, saka lang natin puwedeng gamitin 'yun. Pero ang sinabi ng Amerika sa amin noong pinag-uusapan na namin ang amendment ng Military Bases Agreement, revision ng Military Bases Agreement...Sabi nila 'yung West Philippine Sea or the South China Sea is not part of the treaty area of the Mutual Defense Treaty," he said.
(First of all, if you read the text of the Mutual Defense Treaty, it only covers aerial or naval attacks in the Pacific. But the Americans told us before when we were negotiating the revisions to the Military Bases Agreement...They told us that the West Philippine Sea or the South China Sea is not part of the treaty area of the Mutual Defense Treaty.)
He also said that this is is different from what the US claims.
"Kung may mangyari sa West Philippine Sea between China and the Philippines, eh hindi natin magagamit 'yung Mutual Defense Treaty. Although kapag kausap mo ang opisyales ng Amerika, sasabihin nila, 'We will help you. We'll protect you. We'll come to your rescue.' But when the nitty-gritty is there, hindi natin maasahan 'yan. Kaya dapat, kausapin natin ang Amerika kung babaguhin nila ang Mutual Defense Treaty," Enrile added.
(If something happens in the West Philippine Sea between China and the Philippines, we cannot use the Mutual Defense Treaty. Although if you talk to American officials, they will say "We will help you. We'll protect you. We'll come to your rescue." But when the nitty-gritty is there, we cannot count on that. That is why we should talk to the US if they want to revise the Mutual Defense Treaty.)
However, the United States has several times said it would uphold its MDT with the Philippines and support Southeast Asian countries resisting Beijing's pressure in the South China Sea.
The two countries' 1951 MDT binds them to aid each other in the event of foreign aggression.
"An armed attack against the Philippines' armed forces, public vessels or aircraft in the Pacific, including in the South China Sea, will trigger our obligations under the US-Philippines Mutual Defense Treaty," US State Department spokesman Ned Price said in April this year amid the lingering presence of Chinese ships in the South China Sea, especially in parts covered by Manila's exclusive economic zone.
Chinese vessels have continued to encroach into the exclusive economic zone of the Philippines in the waterway, despite several diplomatic protests filed by the Philippine government.