Palace floats possibility of reviewing MDT, EDCA anew

By Azer Parrocha

February 16 2021, 5:05 pm

MANILA – Malacañang on Tuesday floated anew the possibility of reviewing the 1951 Mutual Defense Treaty (MDT) and the 2014 Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) between the Philippines and the United States (US), stressing that both failed to prevent the entry of Chinese forces in disputed territories in the West Philippine Sea (WPS).

In a press briefing from Davao City, Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque said US troops did not intervene in maritime disputes despite the MDT it signed with the Philippines.

He was specifically referring to how the country lost the Mischief Reef (Panganiban Reef) in 1995 and Scarborough Shoal in 2012 and how China continues to build artificial islands in disputed territories despite the existing MDT.

“Sa akin po, panahon na talaga dapat pag-isipan kung talagang meron ba tayong nakikita diyan sa Mutual Defense Treaty dahil at least tatlong beses na nagkaroon ng dahilan para sila’y tulungan tayo, hindi naman tayo natulungan (I think it’s really time to rethink whether we need the Mutual Defense Treaty because there were three instances where the US could help us but didn’t),” he said.

To prevent the US from converting Subic into a military base as earlier bared by Duterte, Roque also floated the need to review the EDCA, apart from terminating the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA).

Duterte formally notified the US about its intent to revoke the VFA in February 2020.

“Sa tingin ko po, kung gusto na matigil ito ng ating Presidente, kinakailangan balikan muli at pagisipan niya kung bukod sa VFA e dapat na rin tayo magbitiw dito sa tinatawag na EDCA dahil ‘yan po talaga ngayon ang legal na basehan para manatili dito sa ating bayan ang kasundaluhan at equipment ng mga Amerikano (I think that if the President wants to stop this from happening, there is a need to review and rethink not just the VFA, but also the EDCA because that is the legal basis for the presence of US troops and equipment in our country),” he added.

However, Roque clarified that Duterte himself has not yet made any indication to scrap the MDT and EDCA while seeking “compensation" from the US government for utilizing the country's military bases.

“Wala namang indication si Presidente (The President has not made any indication) but he’s just saying na yan ang realidad ngayon (that’s the reality now) and that’s the context by which he was demanding for payment because our military bases are really being utilized by the Americans for prepositioning their troops and equipment,” he said.

Currently, he said there have not been any moves from the US government to offer compensation to extend the validity of the VFA.

“If they ask for what our demand is they will give it. But right now I think it’s premature because there’s no offer, there’s no inquiry so far,” he said.

He said the compensation being sought by Duterte is “generic”. “What’s important is the President said they have to pay,” Roque said.

Meanwhile, Roque brushed aside the challenge made by former Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario to seek PHP230 billion worth of damages from China for its massive destruction of the WPS instead of demanding payment from the US.

“Itong mga ginawa ng Tsina ay nangyari po lahat ‘yan sa administrasyon ng Pangulong Aquino at kung meron pong dapat pananagutan sana talagang gumawa po ng hakbang yung gobyerno ni Presidente Aquino nung sila’y nakaupo pa para magkaroon ng katarungan ang ating bayan (What China is doing now happened during the administration of President Aquino and if there is anyone who should be held accountable, I wish the former administration did something to seek justice for our country),” he said.

Del Rosario, who led the Philippines' arbitral tribunal victory against China in 2016, described Duterte's remarks seeking payment from the US as "unfortunate".

"It is incomprehensible that when partners help each other against a common enemy, one party is asking his partner to pay. This is the gist of the President’s unfortunate position on the VFA. On the other hand, China owes Filipinos more than PHP230 billion in damages for undertaking the most devastating marine destruction in the West Philippine Sea, which will eventually cause a food crisis among Filipinos in the near future. In this case, when will President Duterte demand China to pay?" he said.

Signed in 1998, the VFA allows American forces to enter the Philippines without passport and visa to allow them to participate in joint military drills in the host country.

The MDT seeks to step up the defense and security cooperation between the US and Philippine troops, while EDCA aims to enhance military ties in maritime security and domain. (PNA)