US: Mutual Defense Treaty with PH applies to sea dispute

TOP security officials of the Philippines and the United States have agreed to continue coordinating in addressing challenges facing the South China Sea, with Washington committing the “applicability” of the two nations’ 1951 Mutual Defense Treaty.

US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan spoke over the phone with Philippine National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon Jr. on Thursday (Manila time), to discuss the massing of Chinese vessels at the Julian Felipe (Whitsun) reef over the past months.

Emily Horne, spokesman of the US National Security Council, said Sullivan emphasized that the US “stands with our Philippine allies in upholding the rules-based international maritime order.”

“[Sullivan] reaffirmed the applicability of the US-Philippines Mutual Defense Treaty in the South China Sea,” Horne said in a statement.

The treaty, signed in 1951 in Washington, DC, affirms the Philippines and US support for each other in situations where one is attacked by an external force.

The government task force overseeing the West Philippine Sea (WPS), chaired by Esperon, recently reported that Chinese ships have massed at the Julian Felipe Reef, which is within the Kalayaan Island Group in the WPS.

Aside from the Julian Felipe Reef, the National Task Force for the West Philippine Sea (NTF-WPS) said it also spotted Chinese ships allegedly under the Chinese militia at Chigua (Kennan) Reef, Pag-asa (Thitu) Island, Panganiban (Mischief) Reef, Kagitingan (Fiery Cross) Reef and Zamora (Subi) Reef.

Chinese presence was also reported in the reefs of Panganiban, Kagitingan and Zamora.

The military, on Thursday, criticized the incursions but without directly mentioning China.

Armed Forces chief Lt. Gen. Cirilito Sobejana lambasted the existing structures at the Pagkakaisa (Union) Banks, where Julian Felipe Reef is situated.

Sobejana said the structures were “prejudicial” to peace and security in the WPS and that their presence have been raised before the Departments of Foreign Affairs and National Defense.