The United States has reaffirmed many times its “ironclad” commitment to help defend the Philippines, its oldest ally in the region, in case of an attack on its vessel, aircraft, or personnel anywhere in the Pacific, including the West Philippine Sea.

This commitment is particularly significant in the context of the ongoing territorial disputes in the West Philippine Sea, where China’s expansive claims have led to tensions and potential conflicts.

The legal basis of this commitment was explicitly laid out in the 1951 Mutual Defense Treaty (MDT), a cornerstone of the US-Philippines alliance.

The US further solidified its stance after the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) ruled in favor of the Philippines in 2016, rejecting China’s excessive nine-dash-line claim on almost the entire South China Sea.

This ruling marked a significant shift in US policy, as it abandoned its previous stance of ambiguity.

In a July 2019 statement, former US State Secretary Mike Pompeo changed US policy on the South China Sea under former President Donald Trump, clearly supporting the Philippines in the dispute.

Antony Blinken sustained the US policy.

In May 2023, the US military, in talks with the Armed Forces of the Philippines, updated the MDT parameters during the annual Mutual Defense Board (MDB) meeting.

It expanded the scope and coverage of the MDT from what used to be the metropolitan area of the Philippines to anywhere in the Pacific.
In October 2023, it further revised the MDT to include non-kinetic attacks or the use of another illegal form of violence other than firearms.

However, Washington appeared to need to prepare to defend Manila by committing troops and assets in the West Philippine Sea.

When asked to comment on the latest Chinese harassment in Ayungin Shoal, Air Force Major-General Patrick Ryder, the Pentagon press secretary, said the United States “stand by our ally” and will “call out this kind of irresponsible and reckless behavior.”

But when asked to expound on what he meant when he said the US would “stand by” its ally, is Washington “considering moving assets there” to demonstrate support to the Philippines?

Ryder flatly rejected any military build-up in the West Philippine Sea.
“We’re confident in our force posture in the region right now, and again, I’ll just leave it at that,” Ryder said. “I don’t have any announcements to make.”

It was just a coincidence that the USS Blue Ridge, the flagship of the US Navy’s 7th fleet sailed into Manila Bay a day after the June 17 incident in Ayungin.

Vice Admiral Fred Kacher, the 7th Fleet commander, said the USS Blue Ridge would begin its summer patrol in the region in the Philippines.
But the ship’s deployment has nothing to do with the axes-and-knives incident near BRP Sierra Madre in Ayungin Shoal.

Many Filipinos began to doubt the US’ “ironclad’ commitment because Washington could not match with decisive actions its brave rhetorics.

The Philippines has been used to being abandoned by its ally and former colonial master when its national interest does not intersect with Manila’s interests.

In June 2012, the United States did nothing when China did not comply with an agreement to pull out of Scarborough Shoal after a three-month standoff.

When it pulled out a Coast Guard vessel in the US-brokered deal, the Philippines lost control over the rocky outcrop about 125 miles west of Zambales. China did not leave the area.

There were other instances in the past when the US declined to help the Philippines.

When the Philippine government was running out of arms and ammunition to fight Muslim separatists in Mindanao in the 1970s, Washington turned down Manila’s request for arms supplies.

Manila was only saved from defeat by the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) when Singapore shipped armaments and bullets.

At that time, political relations between Malaysia, which supported the MNLF, and Singapore were at their lowest. In 1967, Singapore declared its independence, separating from Malaysia. Both countries had been under British rule for centuries.

Without firm backing from the US, the Marcos administration toned down its rhetoric and was conciliatory to China.

Executive Secretary Lucas Bersamin said the government found no need to invoke the 1951 Mutual Defense Treaty.
Manila can also work with Beijing to iron out kinks, and it intends to announce future rotation and resupply missions to BRP Sierra Madre.

The two allies are still waiting to be ready to confront China in the West Philippine Sea.

The Philippines needed more credible defense capability to deter China. It might not match China’s military power even in 100 years.

The US must also prepare to face China in the disputed South China Sea. The US preparations are for the Chinese invasion of Taiwan, which it predicted might happen in 2027.

Part of that preparations was to preposition troops, equipment, and logistics in the region, particularly in the Philippines.

It has gained access to nine military bases in the country, but it has completed airfields, piers, logistics hubs to support major operations in case conflict erupts in the region.

The US has allocated $250 million to complete the infrastructure projects in the nine Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) bases before 2027, the year the US predicted China would launch an invasion of Taiwan.

The US and China are both fixated on Taiwan. China has superior forces in the South China Sea against four states. Thus, it does not care about the maritime dispute.

The Chinese Coast Guard, the biggest in the world, is enough to create trouble for Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, and Vietnam.

Chinese warships and warplanes have been holding regular exercises around Taiwan, which the US said was a dress rehearsal for invasion.

The Philippines has to stand on its own and fight its own battle. It has to develop its deterrence with some help from allies.

However, the Philippines should not overly rely on the US and other allies, that they would come to the Philippines’s defense.

Invoking the Mutual Defense Treaty

Invoking the Mutual Defense Treaty

China’s Coast Guard had intercepted and prevented a small Philippine indigenous boat from bringing food and fresh water to troops stationed aboard a naval transport vessel stuck in Ayungin Shoal in the West Philippine Sea.