The resolve of the Philippines and the United States, not the contents of the Mutual Defense Treaty (MDT), would determine the viability of their 70-year-old military treaty as a deterrent to China’s aggression in the South China Sea, according to former Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario.

Del Rosario, a staunch critic of President Duterte’s “defeatist” policy on the West Philippine Sea issue, pooh-poohed the proposals to revisit the 1951 defense accord, which mandated Manila and Washington to help each other in case of armed attacks by another country.

Besides, he said, the public remarks issued recently by US defense officials clearly showed the Americans’ commitment to honor the agreement.

“We are of the view that what is important at this time is not so much the text of the MDT as the political will and commitment of the United States and the Philippines in enforcing the treaty,” Del Rosario said in an online forum marking the 70th anniversary of the agreement on Thursday.

“It is the parties’ actual political will and commitment that will make the MDT effective and credible, especially in the South China Sea,” he stressed.

“Thus, we believe that the MDT can be made relevant in the South China Sea without need of formal renegotiation as to its text,” he added.

Speaking at the same online event, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana disclosed that a former Chinese ambassador to Manila told him in 2018 to “please do not touch the MDT.”

“Leave it as it is,” Lorenzana recalled the Chinese official as telling him.

The defense secretary did not identify the Chinese ambassador. But at the time, China’s ambassador to the Philippines was Zhao Jianhua, who is also known to be close to Duterte.

Del Rosario, who has been verbally attacked by the President, said the country should enter into alliances and joint maritime patrols with nations that have rejected Beijing’s sweeping territorial claims.

The Philippines, he added, should rectify the “damages inflicted” by the President’s questionable policy statements, such as denigrating the country’s landmark 2016 victory in the international arbitral court as a “mere scrap of paper.”

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