Duterte aware he can't invoke defense pact with US over sea row – Panelo

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, July 18) — President Rodrigo Duterte was only being sarcastic when he invoked the defense pact with the United States amid the maritime dispute with China because he is aware of the provisions of the mutual defense treaty, his presidential spokesperson explained on Thursday.

"He knows that he cannot invoke that treaty without any armed assault or attack against any of the parties in that treaty," spokesman Salvador Panelo said in a media briefing.

Duterte on Tuesday said he is "invoking" the treaty to gather the Seventh Fleet of the U.S. stationed in Japan. He said he wants to bring along his critics, Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio, former Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales, and ex-Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario.

Panelo defended Duterte, saying the President's pronouncement was meant to challenge his critics who are spewing "absurdities," saying the two Carpios and del Rosario are calling for the "aggressive" enforcement of the arbitral ruling. The three had repeatedly denounced Duterte's cordial — some say subservient — approach to China, but they did not suggest going to war with the East Asian giant. SAJ Carpio has even outlined "non-war" options for Duterte to resolve the maritime dispute in the West Philippines Sea.

"These critics and detractors, which the President has named, shall go with him in defending the West Philippine Sea," Panelo said.

Senior Associate Justice Carpio said he believes Duterte was joking when he invoked the defense part, knowing that it can only be enforced if there is an armed attack, but there is none. Del Rosario also countered the remark, saying the treaty cannot be used to wage war.

The MDT, signed by the Philippines and U.S. in 1951, states that both countries would assist each other when either one is attacked by a foreign force. MDT's Article IV states that an armed attack against any of the parties "declares that it would act to meet the common dangers in accordance with its constitutional processes."