President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. on Thursday said the 1951 Mutual Defense Treaty (MDT) between the Philippines with the United States is “continuously under negotiation” and undergoing evolution because the conditions are changing.
Mr. Marcos made this remark in an interview on the sidelines of the Kadiwa ng Pasko project in Quezon City.
The President added that the Americans have made “many requests and proposals” under the enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA), which allows US forces access to five Philippine bases and is seen as an expansion of the MDT.
The treaty guarantees that Manila and Washington will come to the aid of the other should one of them come under attack.
“So, all of that is under study now to see what is really feasible and what will be the most useful for the defense of Philippine territory,” the President said.
Mr. Marcos said concerns on security and defense were among the topics tackled during his meeting with US Vice President Kamala Harris, who visited the country last week.
“We covered that and many more subjects. But essentially, on security, what we looked upon were their proposals, the joint military exercises and EDCA, the use of our bases, all of these. We are in the middle of that,” the President said.
During their meeting at the Palace on Nov. 21, Harris assured Mr. Marcos that the US would always stand with the Philippines in defense of international rules and norms as it relates to the highly-contested South China Sea.
Harris also stressed that any armed attack against Philippine forces in the South China Sea would prompt the United States to honor its commitments under the MDT.
National Security Adviser Secretary Clarita Carlos earlier said the government has already created a group to study and review the 1951 Mutual Defense Treaty.
The group, according to Carlos, is compos ed of officials from the National Security Council, the Department of National Defense and the Department of Foreign Affairs.
The 1951 MDT, the longest-running defense pact, aims to step up the defense and security cooperation between the Philippine and US troops.
The Armed Forces of the Philippines said the US is looking at building five additional joint military facilities in the Philippines under EDCA.
AFP chief-of-staff Lt. Gen. Bartolome Vicente Bacarro said two sites are expected to rise in Cagayan, and one each in Isabela, Zambales, and Palawan.
EDCA, signed under the administration of former President Benigno Aquino III, allows US forces access to five Philippine bases to help counterbalance the growing Chinese presence in the South China Sea.
Also on Thursday, Albay Rep. Joey Sarte Salceda told US officials that“a strong way forward” for the special relationship between the two countries is a strong Philippine defense industry with US investments.
During a meeting with US Embassy officials, particularly Samantha Parkes and John Avrett of the political and economic sections, respectively, Salceda said the country “needs a strong local defense industry in order to protect its territorial and regional interests without having to invoke the Mutual Defense Treaty.”
“Right now, we have no choice but to invoke the MDT between the US and the country, when we are confronted with a serious breach of our territory. That is dangerous for the world, because wars between superpowers are always bad for all concerned,” Salceda said.
“A strong local defense sector is critical to ensuring our strategic sovereignty. We don’t need to drag others into our own conflicts. It also ensures some degree of deterrence,” he added.
Salceda has advocated the development of the country’s weapons manufacturing and defense production sector.
“Consider producing weapons in the Philippines. They already produce chips here. As a strategic treaty partner, we would be well within our rights to allow the US defense industry to locate here.”
The lawmaker said the approach “might even be better than increasing the number of US bases here under the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement, since it protects the country’s integrity without hosting foreign troops.”
Salceda also said that military support for the Philippines, particularly for high-technology defense weapons, is “most welcome.”