By Richard E. Caroll
While many articles have appeared in the Western press criticizing Filipino President Rodrigo Duterte, and his dalliance with the People’s Republic of China, few have seriously examined the failure of the United States in living up to its obligation to the Philippines under the Mutual Defense Treaty (MDF) between the United States and the Philippines. With the refusal of the United States to honor its obligations to the Philippines, President Duterte has attempted to mitigate the damage to his country’s sovereignty, by trying to work with a much larger and aggressive nation. The criticisms by the Western press are not valid, and do not take into account the geopolitical realities faced by the Duterte Administration caused by the abrogation of the MDF provisions of Article IV and V by the United States.
The Mutual Defense Treaty and the Article’s Pertinent To the Ongoing Incursion by the PRC in Filipino Territorial Waters
The MDF has 8 articles, and these articles can be found at this link.
Since the construction of “artificial islands” in the South China Sea by the People’s Republic of China (PRC) in the Exclusive Economic Zone of the Philippines (EEZ), the United States has made excuses that the construction of these illegal islands do not constitute a breach of Article IV and Article V of the MDF.
Article IV: Each Party recognizes that an armed attack in the Pacific Area on either of the Parties would be dangerous to its own peace and safety and declares that it would act to meet the common dangers in accordance with its constitutional processes. Any such armed attack and all measures taken as a result thereof shall be immediately reported to the Security Council of the United Nations. Such measures shall be terminated when the Security Council has taken the measures necessary to restore and maintain international peace and security.
Article V: For the purpose of Article IV, an armed attack on either of the Parties is deemed to include an armed attack on the metropolitan territory of either of the Parties, or on the island territories under its jurisdiction in the Pacific or on its armed forces, public vessels, or aircraft in the Pacific.
Before Article’s IV and V can be invoked, the signatories to the MDF must comply with Article I, which states that the aggrieved party must first attempt to settle the dispute through the United Nations peacefully. The Philippines did this with its lawsuit against the PRC in the International Court at the Hague in 2016. The court ruled that the PRC had violated the Philippines EEZ in regard to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). The PRC refused to acknowledge the jurisdiction of the International Court at the Hague, even though the PRC is a signatory to UNCLOS. By pursuing peaceful means of resolving the incursion of the PRC into its EEZ, the Philippines have satisfied the requirement of Article I, before invoking Articles IV and V.
The 2012 Scarborough Shoals Incident
In 2012 there was a confrontation between the Philippines and the PRC with Chinese fishing vessels entering and illegally harvesting fish in defiance of the Philippines EEZ. The Filipino navy dispatched the BRP Gregorio Del Pilar to detain and seize the fishing catch of the Chinese fishing vessels. The Chinese in retaliation dispatched its own vessels which blocked the Gregorio Del Pilar from leaving the Lagoon. A stand off ensued and both sides turned to the United States to mediate the dispute. According to numerous Filipino officials, they were told by the United States envoy Kurt Campbell that the Chinese had agreed to withdraw their vessels, if the Filipino Navy would withdraw their vessels.
In an email from Mr. Campbell to then Secretary of State Hilary Clinton “To create the right environment we need Chinese though to follow through on their commitment to “de-escalate” over Scarborough. We put a lot of pressure on the Phils to step back and if anything it looks as if the Chinese are consolidating their position – and watching us carefully”
The United States brokered an agreement with the Chinese and the Philippines to ease tensions between the two nations, and when China reneged on the agreement, the United States did nothing.
With this type of behavior on the part of the United States, how could President Duterte trust the word of the United States in regard to the United States’ commitment to the MDT?
Under the new Biden Administration, things do seem to be turning around. President Biden has sent numerous warships into the South China Sea to show its resolve to keep the South China Sea free of the domination of the PRC.
The United States is now considering to allow the Philippines to purchase the F-16s, as well as Sidewinder and Harpoon missiles.
However, it will take more than consideration to persuade President Duterte that the United States is willing to live up to its obligations under the MDT.