MANILA(UPDATE) - President Rodrigo Duterte was "just joking" when he said the United States should enforce its Mutual Defense Treaty with the Philippines amid maritime tensions in the disputed West Philippine Sea.
Supreme Court Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio, a staunch advocate of Philippine sovereignty in the disputed waters, pointed out Wednesday that Duterte knows the Philippines can only invoke the military treaty if there is a foreign armed attack on the country.
"I think the President is just joking, just like his jetski joke. The President knows that the Philippines can invoke the Philippine-US Mutual Defense Treaty only if there is an armed attack on Philippine territory or Philippine military ships or aircraft," Carpio said.
"This has not happened," he added in a statement.
Carpio's statement came hours after Duterte called on the US government to send its warships to China.
China is claiming nearly all of the South China Sea, encroaching into the Philippines' exclusive economic zone in the waters, the West Philippine Sea.
"I'm calling now America. I'm invoking the RP-US pact. I would like America to gather all their 7th Fleet in front of China. I'm asking them now. I will join them," he said in an interview over Pastor Apollo Quiboloy's TV program.
The Philippines and the US signed the treaty in 1951, which binds both countries to aid each other in case of foreign aggression.
Carpio said the treaty is for self-defense purposes only since wars of aggression, or military conflicts waged without self-defense reasons, are prohibited by the Philippine Constitution and the United Nations.
Heads of state who are guilty of wars of aggression are "liable for an international crime subject to the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court," he added.
Former Foreign Affairs Secretary Alberto del Rosario agreed with Carpio, saying the President cannot invoke the defense pact to start a war because it is "about the right of countries to defend themselves."
"The Mutual Defense Treaty is a defensive treaty, not a means to initiate a war," Del Rosario said.
Earlier, Presidential spokesperson Salvador Panelo said Duterte was "sarcastic" when he invoked the defense pact with the US.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo earlier this year gave assurances that the US would respond to “any armed attack on Philippine forces, aircraft or public vessels in the South China Sea."
While not a claimant to the disputed waters, the US has been closely watching the situation in the South China Sea as it pressed for a peaceful resolution and respect for freedom of navigation.
China has been ignoring a July 2016 ruling that invalidated its 9-dash line claim to the waters, a landmark Philippine legal victory that Duterte has shelved in pursuit of enhanced trade ties with the economic giant.
He has many times said he does not want to go to war with China over the dispute. Critics have, meanwhile, said asserting the country's sovereignty does not necessarily mean going to war.
- With reports from Mike Navallo, ABS-CBN News