Press Release
May 1, 2023

Tolentino wants clearer definition of PH territory, inclusion of cyber-attack provision in Mutual Defense Treaty

MANILA - Senator Francis 'TOL' N. Tolentino is pushing for a clearer definition of the Philippine territory under the 1951 Mutual Defense Treaty with the United States.

In an interview with radio DZBB, Tolentino suggested the inclusion of territories where the Philippine government currently exercises 'sovereign rights.'

"Kung ako po ang mag a-amendya nito... hindi lamang sa metropolitan territory, sa land mass island territory (ng Pilipinas) sa Pacific Ocean, mayroon pang iba. Kung liliwanagin po iyan, pwede pong idagdag: where it exercises sovereign rights," Tolentino, vice-chairman of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations said.

Tolentino made the remarks in connection with the upcoming meeting between President Ferdinand R. Marcos and United States President Joe Biden wherein, defense, security, and other geopolitical matters are expected to be discussed by the two leaders.

The senator suggested a new provision in which, "any attack on a place where it exercises sovereign rights (for both parties) would trigger MDT."

"Yung where effects on the exercise of sovereign rights, puwede siguro pag-usapan para maliwanag na kapag inatake tayo sa ating exclusive economic zone, ay pasok na pasok sa Mutual Defense Treaty as amended," the lawmaker added.

Considering the current geopolitical tension of claimant countries in the South China Sea region, particularly in the disputed territories located in the West Philippine Sea, Tolentino stressed that the mere presence of the American military in the region is already "a psychological reinforcement itself of our historical ties with the United States."

"Malaking bagay po iyon na alam natin na-andyan sila. So sa halip na gumatos po tayo ng malaki para ma improve yung sandatahang lakas, mayroon tayong kaalyado na handang tumulong," he said.

Tolentino also suggested for the Philippine government to seek an upgraded compensation, not only under the MDT but also with other existing treaties with the world's 'super power,' specifically the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) and the recently expanded Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA), which will be given to local government units (LGUs) that will be hosting those non-permanent U.S. bases in the country.

"Dagdagan at i-klaro rin yung itutulong pamahalaang lokal na magho-host--siguro dapat matulungan sa kanilang educational system, magtayo ng eskwelahan, at kung mayroong kapabilidad na magtayo ng maliliit na ospital kasi marami namang mga doktor ang sandatahang lakas ng Estados Unidos," the senator said.

Meanwhile, at this turning point of the 'modern warfare,' era, Tolentino also seeks the inclusion of a 'cyber-attack' provision under MDT considering that the battlefield right now it's not just only about the conventional armed conflict, but it also include the skirmishes along the cyberspace, noting that there are reports of the so-called 'state-sponsored' cyber-attack.

"Kasi kung magkaroon ng cyber-attack sa banking system natin, collapse po lahat yan--armed attack din po iyon. Kapag inatake din po yung mga government institutions po natin gaya nung nangyari na may data leaks daw sa National Bureau of Investigation (NBI), ay considered as armed attack din po iyon," said Tolentino.

Tolentino said he wants an amendment of Article 5 of the 1951 MDT, to include provisions on attack on cybersecurity especially when it will be made on critical infrastructure of the governments and other vital installations, considering that it may jeopardize the overall operations of either parties.

"Kapag nag cyber-attack, sira pati ang banking system. Sira pati lahat ng critical government infrastructures--brownouts, blackouts nationwide, pati telecommunications," he added.

He explained that a counterattack during a state-sponsored cyber-attack "should be commensurate" and doesn't need a direct confrontation with the opposing party.

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