TROOPING THE LINE. President Ferdinand R. Marcos Jr. troops the line in Borromeo Field during the 2023 Philippine Military Academy (PMA) Alumni Homecoming at the PMA Grandstand in Fort del Pilar, Baguio City on Saturday (Feb. 18, 2023). The Philippine Military Academy serves as the country’s premiere military institution and training ground for aspiring future officers of the Armed Forces of the Philippines. (PNA photo by Alfred Frias)
BAGUIO CITY: Despite the laser-pointing incident at the Ayungin Shoal in the West Philippine Sea, President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. on Saturday said he is not keen on invoking the country’s Mutual Defense Treaty (MDT) with the United States as it would only escalate tensions with China.
Speaking to reporters, Marcos said that activating the MDT which, he said, was under “continuous evolution” would be “counterproductive.”
The Philippines has an MDT with the US signed in 1951 that allows the two countries to help each other in case of foreign aggression.
“If we activate that (MDT), what we are doing is escalating, intensifying the tensions in the area (WPS). And I think that would be counterproductive,” Marcos said during a media interview after the Philippine Military Academy’s alumni homecoming here at Fort del Pilar.
“Besides, despite the fact that it was a military-grade laser that was pointed at our Coast Guard, I do not think that it is sufficient for it to trigger the Mutual Defense Treaty,” he added.
The President said it would be better if the Philippines would intensify its cooperation with its neighboring countries.
He said the Philippine government is in “constant” communication with its treaty partners, including the US.
“So, we are in constant contact, of course, with our treaty partners, not only with the United States but also our Asean (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) partners and our partners here in Asia,” Marcos said.
“That I think is the better recourse rather than go directly to the Mutual Defense Treaty, which again I am very concerned would provoke the tensions rather than cool the tensions now,” he said.
Last February 6, a Chinese Coast Guard (CCG) vessel with bow number 5205 directed a military-grade laser light at the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) ship BRP Malapascua (MRRV-4403) while supporting a rotation and resupply mission of the Philippine Navy in Ayungin Shoal.
The laser light, according to reports, temporarily blinded the PCG personnel.
China, however, denied this, saying it used a handheld laser speed detector and handheld greenlight pointer to “measure the distance and speed of the Philippine vessel and signal directions to ensure navigation safety.”
“We need to highlight that the China Coast Guard ship did not direct lasers at the Philippine crew, and the handheld equipment does not inflict damage on anything or anyone on the vessel. The Philippine side’s allegation does not reflect the truth,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said.
The Department of Foreign Affairs has filed its eighth diplomatic protest this year with the Chinese Embassy in Manila, calling on Beijing to “cease and desist” its aggressive activities against Philippine vessels.
On Tuesday, Marcos summoned Chinese Ambassador to the Philippines Huang Xilian to Malacañang to discuss the reported harassment by the CCG.
Asked what he told Huang, Marcos said he reminded the Chinese ambassador that the latest incident was incongruous with what he and Chinese President Xi Jinping had talked about in January during his visit to prevent possible misunderstanding in the West Philippine Sea.
Marcos and Xi, in a joint statement released in January after their meeting in Beijing, agreed to establish a “direct communication mechanism” to safeguard peace and stability in the West Philippine Sea.
The President remained optimistic that the Philippines and China would be able to resolve the issues being reported in the “past few weeks and months,” given that the two nations are “close friends.”
“We have to find a way around this. If we are such close friends, China and the Philippines, these are not the kind of incidents that we should be talking about between the President and the ambassador to the Philippines from China,” Marcos said.
“So, we are hoping that we can find a better way rather than these incursions into our maritime territory and the rather aggressive acts that we have been seeing in the past few weeks and months,” he added.
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