AFP Chief: We’re on Our Own Against China
MANILA – Armed Forces Chief of Staff Gregorio Catapang has admitted Filipino soldiers will have to go it alone if armed conflict erupts in the West Philippine Sea between the Philippines and China.
Catapang said the United States would not come to the defense of Manila, its long-time ally.
“We understand the treaty, it does not include the West Philippine Sea, and so we want to develop our own capabilities. When the time comes that we will be on our own, given the training with the Americans, we can do it on our own,” Catapang said in an interview with ABS-CBN News. “It’s a contested area. Until now it’s in the international tribunal, so we have to be realistic.”
Catapang was referring to the 1951 Mutual Defense Treaty (MDT) between the Philippines and United States, which compels both nations to come to each other’s defense if an external armed attack occurs in metropolitan areas, island territories in the Pacific Ocean, or armed forces, vessels, and aircraft in the Pacific. The MDT makes no mention of the South China Sea, also known as the West Philippine Sea.
Catapang’s position is different from that of the Department of Foreign Affairs.
The DFA said the US considers the West Philippine Sea to be part of the Pacific Area, based on a letter of former US Ambassador Thomas Hubbard to former Foreign Secretary Domingo Siazon.
When the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) was signed a year ago in April 2014, its proponents said it would help the country solve problems in the West Philippine Sea.
“To me, the value of EDCA is in the assistance during times of calamity and it will serve as a deterrent to would-be aggressors,” then AFP Chief of Staff Emmanuel Bautista told ABS-CBN News in May.
By June, the agreement’s constitutionality had been challenged thrice before the Supreme Court. No temporary restraining order was issued.
In December, Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin told a Senate committee hearing the EDCA had successfully kept China’s aggression at bay.
“Kita nyo, hindi tayo ina-atake sa pag-resupply ng mga tropa sa Ayungin Shoal,” he said.
But while EDCA was being discussed at the Senate, the court, and in the streets, and as questions about the sincerity of the United States continued to linger, China quietly but swiftly reclaimed land and constructed runways and buildings in seven different reefs within disputed waters.
At least five incidents involving Chinese vessels in the West Philippine Sea were also reported last year.
“EDCA will not solve our problem,” Catapang said.
P450B modernization plan
But building a credible defense and security posture could help.
Unfortunately, it will take at least P450 billion and decades before the Philippines achieves this goal.
In the meantime, Catapang said the US can aid the Philippines through training, equipment, and information.
Facilities that may be built or refurbished under the EDCA could also be useful. But any aid would come before, not during, an armed conflict./by Gigi Grande, ABS-CBN News