PH can’t depend on US in conflict vs China despite the Mutual Defense Treaty

First of a two-part series

Over the weekend, the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) announced that the United States will triple its military funding for the Philippines this year. The Southeast Asian country stands to get $30 million from Washington this 2012, up from $11.9 million it received last year.

The news came days after DFA Secretary Albert del Rosario and defense chief Voltaire Gazmin went to the American capital for a “2 plus 2” meeting with their respective counterparts, Hillary Clinton and Leon Panetta. The high-level discussion centered on the four-week standoff between China and the Philippines at the Scarborough Shoal (or Panatag Shoal for Filipinos). “We oppose the threat or use of force by any party to advance its claim,” Clinton said.

{L to R} Defense chief Voltaire Gazmin and Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario with their US counterparts, Leon Panetta and Hillary Clinton (credits: Philippine Daily Inquirer)

It is inevitable for the US to be involved in the raging maritime dispute between the two Asian countries. America has a 60-year-old mutual defense treaty (MDT) with the Philippines. Signed in August 1951, the eight-article treaty states that America will come to the aid of its former colony and vice versa whenever the latter’s territorial integrity, political independence, or security is threatened by an “external armed attack in the Pacific area” (Article III).

Both parties recognize that an attack on either of the parties “would be dangerous to its own peace and safety” (Article IV). Such “armed attack” includes any of the following: a) an armed attack on the metropolitan territory of either of the Parties, or b) on the island territories under its jurisdiction in the Pacific Ocean, its armed forces, public vessels, or aircraft in the Pacific (Article V). The MDT therefore is like an insurance of sorts for the Philippines as it confronts a fast-rising China, but is it really the case?

It must be recalled that together with the infamous parity rights (where Americans were given the same rights as Filipinos to exploit the natural resources of the Philippines), MDT came into being shortly after World War II.  Teodoro Agoncillo, the preeminent 20th century Filipino historian, in 1960 described the “highly touted” identical interests of the Philippines and the United States as “more rhetorical and sentimental than real and substantial.” He added: “No two independent nations ever had or could have identical national interests owing to geographic, economic, and ideological factors[1].”

Teodoro Agoncillo, Philippine historian (1912-1985)

Still embroiled in a decade-long war in Afghanistan, the US is certainly not in a position to engage in another military conflict, especially with a fellow superpower. First, their economy is still in a recession. And after the debacle in Iraq committed by the Bush administration, it will be very hard for US leaders to justify to the American public why they need to meddle in another foreign war.

Texas Rep. Ron Paul, a Republican presidential candidate, argues that America should not be acting like the policeman of the world anymore because of its limited resources. “It’s time we quit this! It’s trillions of dollars we’re spending on these wars!” Paul once declared in a debate. His presidential run may not be successful, but his platform of non-interventionism has gained many adherents across America.

Texas Rep. Ron Paul is one of the leading advocates of a non-interventionist US foreign policy

Advocates of a more aggressive US foreign policy include Arizona Sen. John McCain and Connecticut Sen. Joseph Lieberman. McCain was the Republican presidential nominee in 2008 while Lieberman was the running mate of Democrat Al Gore in the 2000 presidential elections. Both visited the country January of this year. Their hawkish views has been sidelined in this election cycle, a year when even the Republican Party, which used to campaign on an anti-terrorism platform, has focused more on the economy than foreign policy.


[1] Agoncillo, Teodoro and O. M. Alfonso. A Short History of the Filipino People. University of the Philippines Press. Manila, 1960. p. 570

Read: Philippines Role May Expand as U.S. Adjusts Asia Strategy (from New York Times)

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