PH-US defense pact likely item in Pompeo visit

President Rodrigo Duterte may tackle issues of security and terrorism with United States Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, the Palace said on Monday, mulling the possibility that the decades-old Mutual Defense Treaty between the US and the Philippines would be brought up during the meeting.

“There will be talks between their government and our government with respect to our relations and whatever [topics that] the Secretary of State would like to open up,” Presidential Spokesman Salvador Panelo told a Palace news briefing.

Although he admitted he had no information about the meeting on Thursday, the Palace official said mutual concerns like security and terrorism would be discussed.

In a related development:

• The Department of Foreign Affairs on Tuesday bewailed the article published by Washington Post regarding the killings in Manila because it “seeks to discredit the Philippines in the eyes of the international community.”

“We take strong exception to the article entitled, ‘‘This is Manila” that appeared on the front page of the Washington Post on 25 February 2019,” the DFA through the Philippine Embassy in the United States said in a statement.

“It is disappointing how this article hides behind the guise of journalism to advance an agenda that seeks to discredit the Philippines in the eyes of the international community,” it added.

At the Malacañang news conference, Panelo was asked if the issue with China would be discussed, Panelo said it depended on the top US diplomat.

But he did not count the possibility that the decades-old Mutual Defense Treaty would be deliberated.

“[Defense] Secretary Delfin Lorenzana mentioned something about the Defense Treaty. It might be that. Maybe they will talk about that,” Panelo said.

Sought for a clarification, Lorenzana said he could not confirm anything yet as he still had to see the agenda first.

Pompeo is expected to arrive in the country on Feb. 28. 

The top US diplomat will be paying Duterte a two-day visit in Manila after attending the scheduled summit of US President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un in Hanoi, Vietnam from Feb. 26 to 28.

Last December 2018, the defense chief lamented the present-day relevance of the mutual treaty which was forged in 1951.

According to Lorenzana, the possible review of the 67-year-old pact might result in its abolition but stressed that he would have to look into the matter “dispassionately” without considering past ties and future ties with the US.

He was also weighing the consequences on whether to scrap the MDT or not, assuring the public that the interest of the country would remain.

Under the defense treaty, Washington and Manila agree to conduct joint military exercises to strengthen both sides’ defenses.

The countries then engage in regular war games and deployment of thousands of US troops and state-of-the-art American military hardware to the country.

The treaty, forged by the two Pacific allies during the Cold War era in 1951, mandates that both countries should defend each other in case of an attack in its territory.

The embassy protest came after Washington Post published a story that focuses on the unsolved killing of a 44-year-old jobless Filipino man in Tondo whose body was found floating under a bridge on Jan. 14.

“His is a portrait of one more life broken—and one more death left unexplained—in a city with many such stories,” the Washington Post article said.

“Whether the deaths are mostly related to Duterte’s war on drugs is unclear. But what connects them all is a kind of numbed silence,” it said. “Since President Rodrigo Duterte rose to power more than two years ago, the death toll from his war on drugs has kept climbing. Authorities report that more than 5,000 ‘drug personalities’ have been killed in police operations around the country.”

The Philippine Embassy lamented that “the article paints a picture not of Manila, but of a hasty generalization that has no foundation in reality.”

“Unsurprisingly, the article fails to mention that majority of the Filipino people continue to back their government in the fight against illegal drugs,” the statement stressed. It cited the latest survey by the Social Weather Stations that showed eight in 10 Filipinos are satisfied with the government’s anti-illegal drugs campaign.

The embassy also cited a Pulse Asia survey indicating public support for the campaign at 77 percent among Metro Manila residents.

“Reduced criminality is a major driver of public support,” the embassy said.

Data from the Philippine National Police showed that total crime volume has gone down from 675,816 in 2015 to 473,068 in 2018, or a total decrease of 30 percent.

Besides, erring police personnel were meted disciplinary penalties, including dismissal from service, demotion, suspension, forfeiture of salary, reprimand, restriction and withholding of privileges.

“As a nation that cherishes freedom, democracy and justice, and as a responsible member of the international community, the Philippines upholds the rule of law and human rights in all its endeavors,” the embassy said. 

“We will continue to engage in sincere, constructive, and evidence-based dialogue with our international partners in the pursuit of common goals and mutual interests.”

The US along with the United Nations and the European Union have repeatedly expressed concern on the wave of killings of drug suspects since President Rodrigo Duterte came into power in 2016.

Topics: Mike Pompeo , Rodrigo Duterte , Salvador Panelo , Department of Foreign Affairs
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