The United States has failed the Philippines. Not only once but many times.

When the situation does not intersect with Washington’s security interests, it will stand by and abandon its ally despite its commitment under the Cold War-era Mutual Defense Treaty (MDT).

For instance, the United States did not hold China accountable when it reneged on a mutual agreement with the Philippines to pull out from Scarborough Shoal to defuse tensions around the rocky outcrop.

Washington brokered an agreement between Manila and Beijing to end a three-month standoff in Scarborough Shoal. Both sides had agreed to pull off coast guard vessels in the area.

The Philippines complied with the agreement. China did not and even increased its presence, taking full control of the shoal, located within the country’s 200-nautical-mile exclusive economic zone.

The drama began in April 2012 when Chinese fishermen entered the shoal to collect giant clams. The Philippines responded by sending BRP Del Pilar, a naval warship, to arrest the Chinese fishermen.

But before the Navy ship could tow back the Chinese fishing boat to the nearest port, three Chinese Coast Guard vessels showed up to prevent the arrest.

It was an awkward situation. The Philippine Navy could not confront China’s civilian maritime law enforcement vessels. It was too late for the Philippines to realize it made a mistake by sending a gray ship to arrest Chinese fishermen.

The Philippines sent its Coast Guard vessel to replace BRP Del Pilar and for the next three months, several Philippine Coast Guard ships took turns to face off with China’s coast guard.

Washington got concerned, fearing an accident could happen that could draw the US to a conflict that it could not afford to be involved with at that time.

Although the Obama administration unveiled its “pivot to Asia” policy at that time, the US was busy hunting down al Qaeda leaders in the Middle East.

It needed China’s cooperation in defeating Islamist militants and to strengthen its economy.

It is in the US interest to keep the region peaceful and stable.

At that time, the Philippines’s top military leaders, led by the Armed Forces chief of staff, Gen. Eduardo Oban, had met with counterparts in Honolulu in an annual Mutual Defense Board meeting to discuss how Manila could deal with Beijing’s increasing presence and activities in the South China Sea.

The Filipinos directly asked their counterparts how far the US would go in helping the country confront China given its very limited capability.

At that time, the most powerful naval vessel was the BRP Del Pilar, an ex-USS Hamilton-class US Coast Guard cutter. But the vessel had no missile.

The Filipinos requested shore-based long-range missiles to enhance its anti-access and area denial (A2AD) capability and surveillance equipment to detect Chinese intrusions.

The US responded by sending M142 high mobility artillery rocket systems (Himars) to the Philippines during the bilateral joint and combined Balikatan exercises to train Filipinos on how to operate the equipment.

However, the Philippines cannot afford to acquire the expensive Himars.

In 2014, the Philippines was forced to allow the United States to deploy troops and equipment to local military bases under the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) — a poor choice to deter China’s aggressive behavior in the South China Sea.

In the 1980s, when the United States had huge overseas military bases in the country — in Subic and Clark — it provided a security umbrella and allowed the Philippines to focus on internal security threats.

The US presence was an effective deterrence at that time when China’s military was still weak.

But the geopolitical situation has changed. Threats from Islamist militants had receded and big power competition between the United States and China has heightened.

Taking the Chinese threat seriously, the United States has shifted its policy on the South China Sea, making it clear that the Mutual Defense Treaty would be invoked in case of armed attack on a Philippine public vessel anywhere in the South China Sea.

In the past, the US policy was not clear. It could choose not to aid the Philippines when attacked in the South China Sea. The shift underscores the changing geopolitical landscape.

The Philippines should not be lulled into depending on the US security guarantee. It also cannot rely on Australia, Japan and other allies, like Canada, Germany, France, and the United Kingdom. They can only issue statements but could not commit combat forces on the ground.

The Philippines should build up its own defense capability to make any third country think twice before making any strike. The Philippines should have a capability to hit back even if it loses in a conflict.

Some senators have called on the military to invest more on the navy and air force to be able build a minimum credible defense capability. It should have the minimum ability to show the flag in the vast South China Sea.

It takes time for the Philippine Navy and the Philippine Air Force to acquire ships and aircraft to even match the capability of its neighbors, like Vietnam, Malaysia, and Indonesia.

It only has two guided missile frigates, a second-hand South Korean corvette, three ex-US USS Hamilton cutters, three ex-Peacock class patrol boats, and eight Israeli-made missile-capable fast attack interdiction craft (FAIC).

It will soon have two more guided missile corvettes and six Off-Shore Patrol vessels (OPVs) and a squadron of multirole fighters, but it would need more than that, including diesel-electric submarines.

These platforms should be supported by land-based shore-to-ship missiles, surface-to-air missiles, air defense radars, and strategic sealift and airlift capability.

President Ferdinand Marcos Jr should support the modernization program to restore the country’s pride. It had one of the most advanced and modern military equipment in the Asia and Pacific region during the 1950s and 1960s.

His father neglected the armed forces and focused on building a large ground force to fight the Communist rebels and Muslim secessionists, and relied on the US security umbrella.

Marcos Jr. could make a difference by taking care of the country’s security in the face of rising threats from China and uncertainty in the world.

The Philippines has seen how the United States has abandoned the country when its interest could be compromised, and it also cannot really rely on the international community for military support.

Filipinos have proven that in many wars in the past. The Philippines has to stand on its own. It has to defend its sovereignty and territorial integrity.