MANILA, May 2 (Xinhua) -- The United States has assured the Philippines in a recent bilateral meeting that it would provide assistance to its maritime defense but refused to get involved in the Philippines' dispute with other countries over the South China Sea.
The assurance was contained in a joint statement issued after a meeting Monday in Washington D.C. between U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and their Philippine counterparts, Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario and Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin.
During the one-day meeting, the two countries also stressed the importance of their Mutual Defense Treaty (MDT) signed in l951 but was vague on whether the pact would oblige the United States to aid its ally in case the tension in the South China Sea worsens.
After the Washington meeting, Del Rosario said "in terms of U. S. commitment, I think the United States has been very clear that they do not get involved in territorial disputes, but that they are firm in terms of taking a position for a peaceful settlement of the disputes in the South China Sea."
The U.S. Congressional Research Service, in a recent report prepared for members and committees of Congress, said the MDT left room for different interpretations.
Some Philippine officials have said the treaty obliges the United States to come to the defense of the Philippines if there is an attack on its territorial waters.
However, some interpretations limit U.S. intervention to a foreign military attack on the main Philippine islands or upon Philippine military forces.
After the two-plus-two meeting Monday, U.S. Secretary Clinton said that although the U.S. voiced concerns over developments in the South China Sea, particularly in the Huangyan Island, it does not take sides in competing sovereignty claims in the area.
"The United States supports a collaborative diplomatic process by all those involved for resolving the various disputes that they encounter," she said, adding "we oppose the threat or use of force by any party to advance its claims."
Although it has maintained that the Huangyan Island is part of Chinese territory since ancient times, China has also pledged to resort only to peaceful means in defending its territory.
Meanwhile, a U.S.-based militant group has accused Philippine President Benigno Aquino of "selling out the Philippines to the U.S."
In a statement, the Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan)-USA, said that Spain sold the Philippines to the United States for 20 million U.S. dollars at turn of the 20th century. Now, Aquino is selling the country to the United States for some second-hand F-16 fighter jets.
This was the reaction of Bayan-USA to Aquino's pronouncement that more U.S. troops would be welcomed in the Philippines and that he was "hoping" the United States would grant his request for more F-16s.
The group criticized Aquino's continuing efforts to accommodate the U.S. defense strategy for 2012 that entails a so- called "rebalance to Asia," including an increase in U.S. military presence in the Philippines.
"Instead of protecting the nation's sovereignty and the Filipino people, President Aquino has said he wants 'more of the same' when it comes to U.S. troop deployment and port calls of U. S. vessels to the Philippines."
Bayan-USA said the stance of President Aquino would mean "more instability, more human rights violations and more regional insecurity."
There were also criticisms from some quarters that the United States gives only vintage vessels to the Philippine Navy, some even stripped of vital equipment.
For example, the Philippine Navy's largest warship, BRP Gregorio del Pilar, is the old decommissioned U.S. Coast Guard cutter "Hamilton," which was built in l967 but was retrofitted and gifted to the Philippines last year under America's excess defense article program.
Further more, before the ship was decommissioned, the United States took the sensors from it, as well as its communications and electronics equipment, and close-in weapons system, which is used to detect and destroy at short range incoming anti-ship missiles and enemy aircraft.
American lawmakers have backed efforts by the U.S. President Barack Obama to forge a stronger relationship with the Philippines, saying the Congress will soon approve the transfer of a second ship to the Philippine Navy.
Republican Representative Ed Royce told a House of Representatives foreign affairs subcommittee hearing on U.S.- Philippine relations that the congressional review process for transferring the Coast Guard Cutter Dallas will soon be finished and the ship would soon be on its way to the Philippines.