EXCLUSIVE: U.S. Defense official to head to PH for possible Mutual Defense Treaty 'update'

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Philippine Ambassador to the United States Jose Manuel "Babe" Romualdez (FILE PHOTO)

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, February 19) — United States Defense Assistant Secretary Joseph Felter will come to the Philippines this month to discuss possible changes in the 1951 Mutual Defense Treaty (MDT) with Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana.

In an exclusive interview, Philippine Ambassador to the United States Jose Manuel "Babe" Romualdez said Felter will visit the country from India by the end of March, after communication with the Pentagon.

"So this is just a very informal kind of discussion to see what are the points we would like to update. The word is update. It's not really a review but more to update the MDT," he said.

Asked if these revisions need to be ratified by Congress, Romualdez said only the language of the treaty will be up for review. The preliminary discussions aim to clarify issues before a formal panel from both sides will start some time earlier than April.

"Well if we're going to sort of review and renegotiate, then that's a different story. But updating it is really more of changing some of the language. It may or may not have to pass both the Philippine and U.S. congress but we'll see," he said.

There is no specific place as to where the meeting between the defense officials will happen, Romualdez added.

The 68-year-old agreement states that the Philippines and the U.S. would assist each other when either of them is attacked by a foreign force.

However, the document does not specify which areas are covered by the agreement.

Earlier in February, Lorenzana said he wanted to remove "ambiguities" in the treaty. He also ushered in the idea of clarifying provisions to cover U.S.-Philippine response to tensions in the South China Sea, the hotly contested global waterway.

Lorenzana had said the U.S. should define what is covered by its assistance to the Philippines.