OPINION: Recalling JMSU

Ellen T. Tordesillas

Posted at Apr 26 2017 03:50 AM

The Joint Marine Seismic Undertaking, JMSU for short, is back in the news.

It was mentioned by former president Gloria Arroyo and her executive secretary, Eduardo Ermita, to stress that cooperation with China in South China Sea is possible during the launch of the book, “The Ocean Space or the Maritime Area of the Philippines," a primer on the law of the sea, at the House of Representatives, where Arroyo is a currently a member.

The primer, published by the University of the Philippines, is timely at this time when the Philippines, under President Duterte has reconciled with China, in contrast to the toxic relations during the Aquino administration.

During the press conference Arroyo said, “The language, it was without prejudice to the filing of a protest. And since it was just a research survey, it does not affect the respective positions of the countries on issues related to the claim.”

Ermita said there was no conflict among claimant countries then because of the signing of the JMSU.

It’s good that the public’s mind be refreshed about JMSU. A brainchild by then House Speaker Jose de Venecia, originally it was only between China and the Philippines and the term used was “exploration.”

Then acting Justice Secretary Merceditas Gutierrez warned De Venecia and the DFA 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.” Vietnam, which also claims parts of the area to be covered by the deal, later on joined the project. Findings in that “seismic undertaking” were supposed to be used in the next phase of the cooperation which was joint development.

Signed in 2005, the agreement involved the PNOC, the China National Offshore Oil Co. (CNOOC) and Vietnam Oil and Gas Corp. (PetroVietnam). It covered a total 142,886 kilometers in the disputed South China Sea and included almost 80 percent of the Kalayaan Group which the Philippines claims. Reed Bank near Palawan was also included.

There’s a dark story behind the JMSU.

It was connected 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.

So important were the deals that Arroyo had to leave the bedside of the sick Mike Arroyo 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 aptly described Arroyo’s quick trip to Boao thus: “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.”

China made it clear to Philippine officials that that multi-million package would be delivered only if JMSU pushed through.

JMSU was completed in 2007. We have been trying to follow up the results of the survey but we were told that what the Chinese shared with the Philippines was “hazy".

In 2008, Bayan Muna partylist questioned the JMSU’s legality before the Supreme Court, which has not released its decision up to now.
 
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