MANILA - The 70-year-old Mutual Defense Treaty (MDT), forged in the early days of the Cold War, needs a "refresh" to adapt to the evolving security threats in the region, Philippine Ambassador to the United States Jose Manuel Romualdez said Thursday.
In a virtual conference hosted by the Pacific Forum, Romualdez said even with about nine months left in office, the Duterte administration would push through with its plan to "modernize" the MDT.
"We have to upgrade the MDT, update it, make it more meaningful in the relationship, especially with the challenges that we have in the South China Sea," he said.
During the recent visit of US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin III to Manila, Romualdez said the Philippines has proposed a 10-year program to be able to review and put some "meaning and teeth" into the defense pact.
"The treaty has not been invoked given the absence of an external attack against both parties over the last seven decades... Let me stress, however, that not having the condition for its applicability does not render the treaty irrelevant. Neither does the continued absence of conflict mean that the Philippines can bide its time in beefing up its own defense capabilities," he said. "Security threats have since evolved and our new realities need to be considered for the treaty to be effective in ensuring the security of both the Philippines and the US."
Romualdez said the upgraded version of the MDT must cover as much ground as it could to respond to the "new types of warfare" today, including a potential cyberattack on either of the parties.
"We need to work together in trying to counter these kinds of activities that will hamper our security down the road," he said.
Romualdez also said it is in the US' interest to assist and have a "stronger Philippines", both economically and militarily, than one that is unable to support itself.
"There is a word mutual in the MDT and it is high time that the treaty lives up to its name -
mutually capable of covering each other's back whenever the need arises," he said.
The two nations are celebrating the MDT's 70th anniversary in 2021.
Under the current pact, State Secretary Antony Blinken has assured that America will come to Manila's aid during an armed attack against its public vessels, even in the South China Sea.
The South China Sea, where the Spratlys Islands are located, is contested by the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei, Taiwan, and China.
US Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for South and Southeast Asia Lindsey Ford, in the same forum, noted that Washington DC would also continue to diplomatically support the 2016 arbitral ruling that invalidated China's so-called nine-dash line on the strategic waters.
"What's important here in terms of the alliance is that we continue, diplomatically, to support the arbitral ruling. Operationally, we also continue to operate in a way that demonstrates the rights are preserved through the arbitral tribunal and, more broadly, through the UN law of the sea," she said. (PNA)