Ex-solon: Defense chief 'naive' to expect U.S. would agree to include Spratly Islands in defense treaty coverage

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A former lawmaker was reacting to Defense Secretary Lorenzana's call for a review of the 68-year-old U.S.-Philippine treaty, with a clearer commitment from the U.S. that it will cover Philippine-claimed areas in the hotly contested South China Sea.

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, February 28) — A former lawmaker believes Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana is being "naive" to expect the U.S. will shift its perspective and include Philippine-claimed areas in the hotly-contested South China Sea in the coverage of the Mutual Defense Treaty.

"The consistent U.S policy is that it does not want to get involved in sovereingty issues in the West Philippine Sea," former Akbayan Party-list Representative Walden Bello told CNN Philippines' On The Record. "And its position is that the 1951 Mutual Defense Treaty between the United States and the Philippines does not cover the West Philippine Sea, the Spratlys, because it was negotiated and approved before the claims of the Philippines were pushed in the 1970s."

"I think Secretary Lorenzana is probably being quite naive in expecting that the U.S. is going to depart from this position," he added.

Bello compared the situation to that of Japan, whose disputed Senkaku Islands were included under the U.S.-Japan security treaty. The Senkaku Islands are an uninhabited group of islands -- which are also claimed by China, just like some islands in the Spratly group.

"The U.S. has always made it a point to say that relations between Japan and the Senkaku Islands come under the U.S. Japan treaty, whereas the Spratlys does not come under this," Bello said.

Lorenzana's has said he wants a review of the 68-year-old U.S.-Philippine treaty. He wants a clearer commitment from the U.S. that the MDT will cover not only the Philippines' metropolitan territory but also the Kalayaan Island Group -- the cluster of features in the South China Sea that are being claimed by Manila and which are part the West Philippine Sea.

University of the Philippines professor Herman Kraft echoed Bello's remarks, saying the MDT does not cover the West Philippine Sea.

"I think that refers to the territory of the Philippines as defined by the Treaty of Washington later on. Basically, it was what was ceded by Spain to the United States. And so it's really more of the islands that we know," he said.

However, he said other provisions within the MDT can be interpreted to allow the coverage of the South China Sea.

"There are other provisions in the Mutual Defense Treaty which talks about attacks on Philippine vessels, soldiers in the Pacific area of operations, which can be interpreted to mean that it covers up to the South China Sea, West Philippine Sea areas. Any attack that takes place there -- would be deemed to be covered by the Mutual Defense Treaty," he said.

Article IV of the MDT reads: "For the purpose of Article IV, an armed attack on either of the Parties is deemed to include an armed attack on the metropolitan territory of either of the Parties, or on the Island territories under its jurisdiction in the Pacific Ocean, its armed forces, public vessels or aircraft in the Pacific."

The possible review of the treaty comes as high-level delegations from the U.S. is expected to visit the Philippines.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo met with President Rodrigo Duterte on Thursday evening. Malacañang said the treaty may be briefly discussed during Pompeo's courtesty call on Duterte.