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Gov’t to review ‘gray zone’ in defense pact with US

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The government has formed a study group to review the country’s 1951 Mutual Defense Treaty (MDT) with the United States, National Security Adviser Secretary Clarita Carlos said Tuesday.

The group is composed of officials from the National Security Council (NSC), the Department of National Defense (DND), and the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA), Carlos told Dobol B TV.

President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. gave the directive, Carlos said.

“I will lead this (group). The NSC, the DND, and the DFA, we have already formed a study group that will clarify and review the MDT,” she said.

There is no “automaticity” under the treaty for either country to extend assistance in case of an attack on the other, Carlos said, adding this must still undergo constitutional processes.

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“They will go through their constitutional processes. It means it’s up to their Congress, their President (to ratify it),” she said.

The Philippines also needs to review the MDT considering that its Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) with the US, which is seen to advance the treaty’s implementation, is up for termination or renewal in April next year, Carlos said.

During her courtesy call on Mr. Marcos at Malacañag on Monday, visiting US Vice President Kamala Harris said attacks made against Philippine forces in the South China Sea will invoke the US mutual defense promises.

Under the Duterte administration, then-Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana called for a review of MDT, citing new regional security challenges and China’s vast territorial claims in the South China Sea, including in areas that belong to the Philippines.

This is to ensure the Philippines and US could better respond to China’s “grey zone” and “cabbage” tactics of aggressively pressing its claims over the waters, where Chinese maritime militia have been intimidating smaller claimants, Lorenzana said.

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