Such were the words of former University of the Philippines College of Law Dean Pacifico Agabin in the forum “Will GI Joe come to the rescue?” earlier today at the UP College of Law.
While many of our nation’s leaders have over these past few weeks been under the belief that the Philippines is under American protection (sounds like a line from 1898 Declaration of Independence), and that the “great North American nation” will come to our aid should the People’s Republic decide start hostilities in the South China Sea, Agabin said that it would be important to understand the context of the 1951 Mutual Defense Treaty between the US and the Philippines.
Agabin said that unlike the provisions under the agreement signed for the creation of the North Altlantic Treaty Organization, the Mutual Defense Trearty has provisions which state that in case of conflict the corresponding actions of the signatories are still dependent on the provisions of their respective constitutions. This same provision was also included in the now defunct South East Asia Treaty Organization or SEATO. And it was the same provision spelled the demise of the SEATO.
Agabin added that while the Mutual Defense Treaty between the US and the Philippines, was invoked by the US then to compel Philippine involvement in its wars in Asia, such as the Korean War and Vietnam War, it can not be used by the Philippines to compel US involvement in the Spratlys issue. He said that the MDT has already been superceded by the War Powers Resolution which limited the discretion of the US President to use US troops in conflicts withtout the permission of Congress. Should conflict erupt between rival claimants in the diputed Spratlys area, the question of whether US troops will be deployed in accordance with the Mutual Defense Treaty will have to be answered by the members of the US Congress.
While US and Filipino forces start conducting a military exercise today near Palawan (just a few miles away from the Spratlys), it can be said that it is nothing but military posturing. And nothing more can be expected out of it. When the exercises are concluded, the technologically-advanced US armed forces will leave behind a Philippine armed services with weapons dating back to the Second World War (we even have a ship which was used in the D-Day in Europe).
Should the US want to prove its commitment to the Philippines, the most concrete show of support it can give said the former Dean, should be to sell military hardware at more affordable prices. Such a move would not only be essential given the pressing situation and also an indication of the US commitment to the Philippines. Failing that, then the Philippines should pursue a policy in the Spratlys which is independent of US or Chinese interests. And it should be an independent interest made on behalf of the Filipino people if the Aquino administration wants the people to rally around the flag, should the Chinese want to claim those islands which can be seen from the shores of Palawan.