High-level U.S. delegation to review Mutual Defense Treaty – Lorenzana

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Filipino and American soldiers during a joint military exercise. (FILE PHOTO)

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, February 5) — A top-level panel of representatives from the United States will head to the Philippines to discuss and review the 1951 Mutual Defense Treaty (MDT) with the Philippines, Defense Chief Delfin Lorenzana said Monday.

"They have been asking me what our plans and their high-level delegations will be arriving here soon, not yet the formal talks but just maybe the audience to explore what other things that we are thinking on our side. We also want to know what they are thinking on their side," Lorenzana told reporters.

The defense chief said he wants to remove so-called ambiguities in the 67-year-old agreement. In December, Lorenzana ushered the idea of clarifying provisions in the treaty to cover issues surrounding the hotly contested South China Sea.

"We just want to know, remove the ambiguities because they always say that we do not involve ourselves in territorial disputes. I think that's the origin of all the problems in the West Philippine Sea when they said we are not involving ourselves in territorial disputes," he said.

The global waterway is the subject of various overlapping maritime claims. In 2016, the Permanent Court of Arbitration recognized the Philippines' claims over the 200-nautical mile exclusive economic zone, but China has refused to observe the ruling. It instead reinforces its historic rights using its nine-dash line claim.

The defense chief said the review will be good for the Philippines, citing an instance of a collision between Chinese and American frigates in the South China Sea.

"Suppose there will be shooting there, and they invoked the MDT then you are involved, we're involved," he said.

Tensions between the U.S. and China has risen following Beijing's alleged militarization and reclamation activities in the South China Sea, prompting security concerns in the area.

Lorenzana then said the U.S. should define its scope in assistance to the Philippines to address these concerns.

"They could define our territory also, what is the limit of our territories. If they said that they are going to defend us or help us if Metropolitan Philippines is attacked, what do they mean by 'Metropolitan Philippines?' Does it include Scarborough Shoal, Mischief Reef or Pag-asa (island)? That's ambiguous there," Lorenzana said.

The agreement states that the Philippines and the U.S. would assist each other when either of them is attacked by a foreign force.

The review of the treaty is expected to happen within the year, Lorenzana said.