U.S. to defend PH from invasion – envoy

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, December 19) — The U.S. would defend the Philippines in case of a foreign invasion, its ambassador said Wednesday.

"Our commitment to this alliance is absolute, is ironclad. And I fully expect that we will come to the defense of the Philippines if any foreign nation were to attack the Philippines," U.S. Ambassador to the Philippines Sung Kim told CNN Philippines' The Source.

Kim said this in reaction to a recently released poll by the Social Weather Stations showing that 61 percent of Filipinos believe that the U.S. would aid the Philippines should it be invaded by a foreign country.

The survey conducted from June 27 to 30 also found that 30 percent of Filipinos are undecided whether the U.S. would come to the defense of the Philippines, while nine percent believe it would not aid its longtime ally.

Kim thinks that those who said they are undecided are leaning towards the belief that the U.S. would help the Philippines in case of an invasion.

The U.S. and the Philippines inked a Mutual Defense Treaty (MDT) in 1951 which provides that both countries would assist each other when either of them is attacked by a foreign force. Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana and US Secretary of State Michael Pompeo reaffirmed the countries' commitment to the agreement in September.

Supreme Court Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio was among those who called on the government to ask the U.S. to declare Scarborough Shoal as part of Philippine territory so it can invoke the MDT to get military aid from the Western power amid China's reported rampant militarization of the West Philippine Sea.

But asked if the U.S. could help the Philippines in its maritime row with China, Kim said, "I think our position on the whole South China Sea situation has been quite consistent, and you've heard it before many times. We call on all claimants to refrain from any aggressive unilateral actions. We call on all countries to refrain from militarization of those features."

The U.S. has been conducting freedom of navigation exercises in the South China Sea and has also conducted joint exercises with Philippine troops. China has repeatedly expressed opposition against these operations and tensions still remain high in the contested region.

READ: China concerned with U.S. navy exercises during Xi visit to PH – Palace

Last month, a Filipino TV crew was reportedly barred from filming in the Scarborough Shoal, a feature within the exclusive economic zone of the Philippines, prompting calls from some senators to call on the government to lodge a diplomatic protest against China.

"Freedom of navigation and overflight are international rights for everybody. It does not belong to any set of countries. And this is why we continue to conduct freedom of navigation operations because it is a way to protect those rights and principles," Kim said.

He added that joint exercises "in the hundreds" between U.S. and Philippine troops would continue next year.

The Permanent Court of Arbitration in the Hague, in a 2016 decision on a case filed by the Philippines against China, voided Beijing's sweeping claims over virtually the entire South China Sea. It also found that none of the features claimed by China was capable of generating an exclusive economic zone, affirming the Philippines' sovereign rights in waters within its exclusive economic zone.

China did not participate in the proceedings and refuses to recognize the historic ruling.

The U.S. is among the eight countries which has called for the arbitral ruling to be respected, according to the Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative.