It’s good that President Duterte has Harry Roque with him as he seems to have been convinced by China to start the joint exploration in Reed Bank also known as Recto Bank – an undertaking that China had been wanting to do and had been generous with its enticement to the Philippine government.
In an interview with Karen Davila in ANC’s Headstart, Roque, presidential spokesperson, said the cooperation with China will be taking off from “the result of a joint maritime seismic exploration agreement. This will now actually entail joint exploration and possible exploitation of natural resources.”
“We have gone beyond determining if there are resources” and “The only issue is now, is it commercially viable,” he said.
Roque and Davila were talking about the Joint Marine Seismic Undertaking or JMSU entered into by the Philippines, China and Vietnam on March 14, 2005.
Roque is very knowledgeable about the JMSU, the constitutionality of which the Supreme Court has yet to decide, having been a director of the UP College of Law, Institute of International Legal Studies, which has done extensive studies on the South China Sea issue.
The tripartite agreement which happened after Vietnam insisted that they be included because they are also claiming area covered by the JMSU, superseded the Sept 1, 2004 between China and the Philippines.
The brainchild of then House Speaker Jose de Venecia, the JMSU was a three-year agreement among the Philippines, China and Vietnam to undertake a seismic study “to gather and process data on stratigraphy, tectonics and structural fabric of the subsurface of the area.”
The original agreement called for joint “exploration.”
Then acting Justice Secretary Merceditas Gutierrez warned De Venecia and the DFA that the agreement would violate the Constitutional provision that “exploration” of Philippine natural resources can only be done by the State.
They were able to find a way to circumvent that provision by using the word “seismic undertaking.”
The JMSU covered a total of 142,886 kilometers including at least six of the eight islands occupied by the Philippines four of the islands occupied by Vietnam, five occupied by China and Itu Aba, occupied by Taiwan, non-signatory to the agreement.
Around 24,000 square kilometers of the 142,886 kilometers were undisputed Philippine territory.
It also covered Reed Bank, about 85 nautical miles west of Puerto Princesa, said to contain 1.035 million hectares of potential gas field containing oil, gas, and condensates worth some $23.2 billion, according to the Department of Energy.
JMSU was tied to the $904.38 million package of investment from China that included the graft-ridden Northrail, NBN-ZTE telecommunications deal and Zhongxing Technology Equipment (ZTE) Diwalwal mining project.
Sources at the Department of Foreign Affairs said China made it clear to Philippine officials that the multi-million package would be delivered only if JMSU pushed through.
The Chinese also required a concrete stamp of approval of the President. That’s the reason why then President Gloria Arroyo had to leave the bedside of the sick husband at St Luke’s Hospital and flew to Boao, China to witness the signing of the agreement for the jumbo loans.
Malacanang’s press release for Arroyo’s quick trip to Boao was apt: “That’s the way things looked like for President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo in her brief stay in this picturesque coastal town Saturday as she ‘came and went like a thief in the night,’ bringing with her an avalanche of Chinese investments to the tune of $904.38 million.”
Roque then said: “Clearly, an agreement to jointly survey for the existence of petroleum resources in the Spratlys would be a derogation of the country’s sovereign rights (because) the exploration here would cease to be exclusive.”
He also said Mrs. Arroyo could be held liable for violation of the Constitution in allowing foreign countries to explore the Philippines’ natural resources.
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