US defense chief: MDT covers PH public, gov't ships, aircraft

By Priam Nepomuceno

August 9, 2023, 10:36 am

MANILA – United States Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin III reiterated that the Mutual Defense Treaty (MDT) between the US and the Philippines applies to Philippine public and government vessels and aircraft.

"Secretary Austin reaffirmed that the Mutual Defense Treaty extends to Philippine public vessels, aircraft, and armed forces – to include those of its Coast Guard – in the Pacific, including in the South China Sea," the US Department of Defense (DOD) said in a statement Tuesday night (US time).

Austin made the statement after a phone call with Department of National Defense (DND) Secretary Gilberto Teodoro Jr. where they discussed recent events in the South China Sea, including China's efforts to obstruct the Philippine resupply mission at the Second Thomas Shoal (also known as Ayungin Shoal) on Aug. 5.

"Secretary Austin condemned the China Coast Guard's use of water cannons and other dangerous maneuvers, which put the safety of Philippine vessels and crew at risk. He joined numerous countries in expressing concern about these unsafe operational activities, which undermine the status quo and directly threaten regional peace and stability," the US DOD statement added.

Austin, in a May phone call with then DND officer-in-charge Senior Undersecretary Carlito Galvez Jr., reiterated that any armed attack on Philippine ships and aircraft in the South China Sea would result in the invocation of the MDT.

"Austin reiterated that the US’ commitment to the alliance remains ironclad and that an armed attack on Philippine armed forces, aircraft, and public vessels, including the Coast Guard, anywhere in the South China Sea, would invoke US mutual defense commitments under Article IV of the MDT," DND spokesperson Arsenio Andolong said in an earlier statement.

Under Article IV of the MDT between the Philippines and the United States, "each Party recognizes that an armed attack in the Pacific area on either of the Parties would be dangerous to its own peace and safety and declares that it would act to meet the common dangers in accordance with its constitutional processes."

The MDT between the two nations was signed on Aug. 30, 1951.

Austin and Teodoro also discussed the US-Philippine alliance cooperation and reaffirmed the "ironclad nature" of this partnership.

"Both Secretaries reaffirmed the ironclad nature of the US-Philippines alliance and committed to redouble efforts to strengthen bilateral training, interoperability, and support for the modernization of the Philippine armed forces," the US DOD stated.

They also reaffirmed their shared commitment to upholding the rules-based order, including supporting the Philippines' right to conduct lawful maritime activities, consistent with the 2016 Arbitral Tribunal Ruling, which is final and binding on all parties.

"The Secretaries commended recent bilateral military cooperation, including collaborative efforts to deliver over 32 tons of humanitarian supplies to the remote islands off the coast of the Batanes island group and the mountain region of Cervantes, Ilocos Sur impacted by Typhoon Egay," the US DOD statement added.

Both defense chiefs noted that swift response was critical for the well-being and safety of thousands of Filipinos in these regions affected by the typhoon.

They also praised the use of the Lal-lo Airfield in Cagayan, a new Enhance Defense Cooperation Agreement location, in facilitating relief efforts.

"The Secretaries committed to find a near-term opportunity to meet in person and restated their commitment to stand shoulder-to-shoulder as allies to bring security, prosperity, and stability to the Indo-Pacific region and beyond,” it added.

Teodoro welcomes US support

As this developed, Teodoro welcomed the "strong statement of support" from the US regarding the harassment and disruption of Philippine vessels conducting a resupply mission in the Ayungin Shoal.

"Secretary Teodoro firmly restated that no country has the right to question the Philippines’ capability build-up to address its immediate and evolving security concerns," Andolong said.

On defense relations, the DND spokesperson said Austin reaffirmed the US' commitment to provide intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) support to the Philippines.

"Moving forward, both officials pledged to fast-track pending defense initiatives, such as the conclusion of the General Security of Military Information Agreement (GSOMIA) and the implementation of the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement sites. Moreover, Secretary Austin highlighted the importance of GSOMIA for the transfer of technology in support of the modernization program of the AFP," Andolong stressed.

Teodoro also took the opportunity to express his appreciation for the relief efforts and airlift assistance extended by the US in the wake of Typhoon Egay.

He emphasized that these synergistic efforts are a hallmark of the enduring alliance between the Philippines and the US.

"Secretary Austin expressed condolences for the damages and casualties of Typhoon Egay. The two Secretaries explored ways to enhance cooperation in the field of HADR, particularly through EDCA Agreed Locations. Furthermore, Secretary Teodoro commended the US’ unwavering support in preserving the rules-based international order. The meeting concluded with the two defense officials committing to uphold the maintenance of peace and security in the Indo-Pacific region," Andolong said. (PNA)