Marcos: Mutual Defense Treaty with US ‘continuously’ evolving

Comments come after Harris said it would help defend Philippines if its forces come under attack in South China Sea
By Aie Balagtas See of BenarNews
2022.12.01
Manila, Philippines
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Marcos: Mutual Defense Treaty with US ‘continuously’ evolving Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. gestures during a speech at a Department of Environment and Natural Resources forum in Manila, Oct. 5, 2022.
Aaron Favila/AP

Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. said Thursday that a decades-old defense treaty with the United States was “continuously under negotiation,” as he suggested the possibility of a stronger American military presence in the Southeast Asian country.  

When journalists asked him to confirm reports about having ordered a review of the 1951 Mutual Defense Treaty, Marcos replied that it was “continuously under negotiations and under evolution,” according to a report by BenarNews, an RFA-affiliated news service. The Philippine leader said he hoped to give “more concrete” updates by early 2023. 

The 71-year-old treaty binds both countries to send troops and aid in each other’s military defense in the event of an attack from an external power.

“So all of that is under study now to see what is feasible and what will be the most useful for the defense of Philippine territory,” Marcos said. 

During a visit to the Philippines in late November, U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris pledged that Washington would invoke the treaty and help defend its longtime ally should Filipino forces come under attack in the contested South China Sea. 

Harris also undertook a historic trip to Palawan, a Philippine island on the frontline of Manila’s territorial dispute with Beijing in the sea, where she promised more American help to Filipino fishermen facing ongoing threats from foreign encroachment in Philippine-claimed waters. 

On Thursday, Marcos told reporters that Washington had made requests under the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA). Signed in Manila on April 28, 2014, the agreement allows the United States to rotate troops into the Philippines for extended stays and allows the United States to build and operate facilities on Philippine bases.

“Yes, we covered that and many more subjects,” Marcos said, referring to his meeting with Harris in Manila on Nov. 21. “But essentially, on security, joint exercises and EDCA, the use of our bases, all of these. We are in the middle of that.”

Harris.jpeg
U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris prepares to place flowers at a Philippine cemetery in Puerto Princesa, Palawan province, where 139 American soldiers killed in World War II are buried, Nov. 22, 2022. [Jason Gutierrez/BenarNews]

During her visit, Harris stressed that Washington had a “profound stake” regarding unfettered access to the sea region. The South China Sea is a vital sea lane where products valued at billions of dollars pass through daily.

As a military ally, the United States would stand ready to support the Philippines in the face of “intimidation and coercion,” the American vice president said.

Last month, the U.S. government agreed to spend about $66.5 million (3.7 billion pesos) to upgrade five Philippine military bases chosen under the EDCA – a figure Harris upgraded to $82 million (4.6 billion Philippine pesos).

More locations have been identified for potential development and are the subject of discussions, Philippine defense officials said.

Oil, gas exploration

While responding to reporters during his news conference, Marcos also confirmed that the Philippines would explore for oil and gas in the West Philippine Sea, Manila’s name for its South China Sea territories, and without China’s support if necessary.

Former President Rodrigo Duterte had signed an agreement for joint explorations with China, but the talks collapsed because of Beijing’s sweeping territorial claims. 

“That’s the roadblock there and we don’t know how to fix that problem yet. I think there are other ways,” Marcos said.

“It does not have to be G2G [government-to-government agreements] because we already need the resources there. It’s a small thing for China, but the Filipinos need it [oil and gas] already,” Marcos said. “So we need to fight for it and benefit from it at the same time, if there is indeed oil there.”

In August, the Department of Foreign Affairs said the country was ready to discuss gas exploration with any nation provided it would follow Philippine laws.

BenarNews is an RFA-affiliated news service.

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