THE United States is obliged to help a Philippines that is under attack in its own territory or in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea), Manila said on Wednesday as it fended off criticisms of a newly signed security deal with Washington.
President Barack Obama on Tuesday declared that the US will defend the Philippines if its long-standing ally in Asia is targeted by external enemies.
His government and Manila had just signed the 10-year Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement or Edca, which allows greater American military presence in the Philippines, among other provisions.
Obama, shortly after arrival for a two-day state visit that began on Monday, cited the 1951 Mutual Defense Treaty (MDT) between the two countries but did not mention coming to Manila’s aid in the South China Sea, where China and the Philippines are disputing resource-rich parts.
But before leaving Manila on Tuesday, he said Washington’s commitment to defend the Philippines is “ironclad.”
His statement was echoed by Philippine Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario, who said in a statement, “Under the [MDT], the United States will come to the assistance of the Philippines if our metropolitan territory is attacked or if our armed forces are attacked in the Pacific area.”
Washington had affirmed in a 1999 diplomatic letter “that the South China Sea is considered as part of the Pacific area,” del Rosario added.
Critics of Edca, including sections of the Philippine media said Manila had gifted US troops with new bases but got nothing in return.
The Philippines has been embroiled in one of the highest-profile territorial disputes with China in the Spratlys, an island chain in the South China Sea believed to sit on huge oil and gas deposits, as well as another fish-rich atoll there.
Manila alleged in a case filed before the United Nations last year that China claims 70 percent of the South China Sea, even waters and islands or reefs close to its neighbors.
The Philippines, which has one of the weakest militaries in the region, has repeatedly called on the United States for help as China has increased military and diplomatic pressure to take control of the contested areas.
It has described Edca as part of efforts to build up its military’s deterrent capability to protect the country’s exclusive rights under international law to sections of the sea closest to major Philippine islands.