The presence of a US Navy plane monitoring possible confrontation between Chinese coast guard ships and a civilian Philippine vessel serves as proof the US is ready to provide all-out support to the Philippines if it is attacked by China, a source in the Armed Forces said on Friday.
“The presence of the US Navy plane speaks for itself, that the US will help us,” the source, who requested anonymity because he was not authorized to speak on the issue, said.
The Philippine ship was proceeding to Ayungin to resupply Marines stationed aboard a derelict Navy ship on March 29 when two Chinese coast guard ships tried to block its path.
TV crew on board the civilian vessel were able to film a Philippine Air Force plane and another aircraft with US Navy markings, both flying low over the disputed area.
On Friday, Armed Forces spokesman Lt. Col. Ramon Zagala confirmed that the Air Force plane was monitoring events at the shoal but refused to comment on the presence of the other aircraft.
“There was a PAF [Philippine Air Force] plane to monitor. However, on [the presence of a]US [Navy plane], may I refer you to [the]US Embassy,” he told The Manila Times in a text message.
Zagala declined to comment on the extent of military support the US is willing to extend to the Philippines under the 1951 Mutual Defense Treaty (MDT).
Armed Forces of the Philippines chief of staff Gen. Emmanuel Bautista said he believes the US would come to the aid of the Philippines as provided under the MDT.
At a recent news briefing, Bautista acknowledged that there have been statements from the US military that “they are prepared to help us in the spirit of the MDT.”
He did not elaborate on the extent of US military support if China decides to use military force to cement its claim on the disputed shoals, reefs and islets in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea).
Manila and Washington are also in the thick of negotiations on the proposed enhanced defense cooperation that would increase the presence of American forces in the country, give them access to Philippine military camps and allow them to build structures and bring in military equipment.
Defense Undersecretary Pio Lorenzo Batino, who heads the Philippine negotiating panel, said the proposed defense cooperation set-up would address the evolving defense requirements of both countries amid changing regional security requirements.
“We recall that under the Mutual Defense Treaty, our countries are bound to separately and jointly by self-help and mutual aid maintain and develop our individual and collective defense capabilities,” Batino added.
“But changing regional security needs have posed a challenge to the security cooperation of the two countries,” he said.
Batino was making a veiled reference to a territorial dispute between China and the Philippines over the Spratlys, which is believed to be rich in oil and mineral deposits.