President Rodrigo Duterte on Wednesday called on the United States to send its Seventh Fleet to the West Philippine Sea, invoking the decades-old Mutual Defense Treaty between Manila and Washington—even though no attack has been launched against the Philippines to activate the pact.
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In an interview with Pastor Apollo Quiboloy Wednesday, the President said the Philippines would join the US if Washington deploys its 7th Fleet in the disputed waters to confront China, which has made incursions on Philippine-claimed territory.
“I’m calling now America. I’m invoking the RP-US pact. I would like America to gather all their Seventh Fleet in front of China. I’m asking them now and I will join them,” Duterte said.
“I will ride on the boat where the admiral of the US [is],” he added.
The Seventh Fleet, stationed in Japan and South Korea, is a military formation of the US Navy, having at least 60 ships, 300 aircraft, and 40,000 Navy and Marine Corps personnel.
The MDT, forged by the two Pacific allies during the Cold War era in 1951, mandates that both countries should defend each other in case of an attack on the other’s territory.
No such attack has occurred.
The Chief Executive previously urged the US to send its naval forces to the contested waterways amid the calls of his critics to protect the country’s marine resources.
He urged Washington to fire “the first shot” against Beijing.
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The Palace played down the President’s statement as “metaphorical,” saying it was aimed to show critics that driving away China from the West Philippine Sea was easier said than done.
In his interview, the President invited his critics, including Supreme Court Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio, former Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario, and former Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales to join him on the trip to the WPS.
“I will drag along this Carpio and the rest of the [critics, including] Albert. And when the Americans say that, ‘We are here now,’ and I said, ‘Ready?’ ‘Ready.’ ‘Can I have the honor, admiral?’ I will press the [button],” Duterte said.
“And maybe that will be the end of Palawan. Palawan will be devastated, maybe occupied, or if there will be nuclear bombs, then we would dry up. So, nothing will grow here. We can just wait for just like a big hole coming our way to suck us to eternity,” he continued.
Last month, Duterte said he was not scared of China but said he was afraid that the Philippines does not have the defense capabilities for an armed conflict.
“I’m not afraid of China. I’m more afraid of the fact that we might not stand a chance and lose in the end,” Duterte said.
“But America has the right to interfere if it becomes a bloody confrontation. If there is an invocation of the RP-US, it should be concurred by Congress of America,” he said.
“They will go to war, only [if] the President says so, and Congress will give its concurrence. Other than that, it cannot be,” he added.
Talk of invoking the 68-year-old defense treaty was sparked by the ramming and sinking of a Filipino fishing boat by a Chinese vessel on June 9 near the Recto Bank, which is well within the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone.
Senator Panfilo Lacson said the MDT was the “only weapon in our arsenal” that could “make China feel the balance of power.”
Presidential Spokesman Salvador Panelo, however, shot down the suggestion as “reckless and premature.”
Drawing further criticism, Duterte dismissed the incident as “a minor maritime accident” and said he had a verbal agreement with Chinese President Xi Jinping in 2016 to allow Chinese vessels to operate in the Philippine EEZ.
He also rejected calls to send Philippine Navy ships to the area to protect Filipino fishing boats, saying this would provoke a war with China.
Carpio dismissed Duterte’s statement as a joke.
“I think the President is just joking, just like his jet ski joke,” Carpio said, referring to Duterte’s campaign promise to ride a jet ski to Spratly Island to plant the Philippine flag there.
But after winning the presidential election in 2016, the President never talked again about his jet ski promise and sought closer ties with China as a way of luring more investments into the country, an approach his critics branded as appeasement.
“The President knows that the Philippines can invoke the Mutual Defense Treaty only if there is an armed attack on Philippine territory or Philippine military ships or aircraft. This has not happened,” Carpio said.
The magistrate pointed out that the MDT operates only for self-defense, “not for aggression against another state.”
“A war of aggression is prohibited by the Philippine Constitution and the United Nations Charter. A war of aggression makes leaders of the aggressor state liable for an international crime subject to the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court,” Carpio added.
The senior magistrate is a vocal critic of Duterte’s stance in the West Philippine Sea, particularly the administration’s decision not to invoke the 2016 ruling of the Permanent Court of Arbitration junking China’s extensive claims in the South China Sea.
He also said that war, contrary to Duterte, is not the only option that the government can use in dealing with Beijing’s aggressive activities in the WPS.
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