THE Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) will continue to rely on the Philippines’ 1951 Mutual Defense Treaty (MDT) with the United States should China use force and fire at Philippine aircraft conducting maritime patrols at the disputed Spratlys in the South China Sea (West Philippine Sea), according to the commander of the AFP Western Command (WestCom).
“If they do that, it is already an affront to the Republic of the Philippines and we can invoke the Mutual Defense Treaty with the United States,” Vice Admiral Alexander Lopez told reporters during a visit to Pagasa (Thitu) island on Monday.
“[But] no. I don’t think they will do that,” he said.
China has been accused of harassing Philippine aircraft conducting maritime patrols in the disputed waterway, the latest of which was over the weekend.
Lopez did not give details of what he described as a “challenge” to a Nomad plane.
Late last month, an Islander plane of the Philippine Air Force (PAF) was given an illumination round by a Chinese vessel for entering “Chinese territory.”
Lopez said China in effect was establishing the so-called Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ), a publicly defined area extending beyond national territory in which unidentified aircraft are liable to be interrogated and, if necessary, intercepted for identification before they cross into sovereign airspace.
The authority to establish an ADIZ is neither given by any international treaty nor prohibited by international law and is not regulated by any international body.
But the Westcom chief said the military is not concerned about this and will not be cowed by the challenges.
“[To us], these are nuances,” Lopez said.
He pointed out that China has no right or authority to challenge any or all aircraft passing through that international airspace particularly on Subi Reef, where a huge reclamation is being undertaken by China.
Lopez said there is no such thing as a “no fly zone” on Subi Reef.
“Again, it’s an international airspace. [We have] freedom of flight [there],” he added.
When asked if there was an assurance from the US that if a PAF plane is shot by the Chinese, it will come to aid the Philippines, Lopez said it is clearly stated in the MDT.
In the meantime, according to him, the Philippines will continue to make an international issue China’s massive reclamations and perceived saber-rattling in the South China Sea.