MANILA, Philippines - President Benigno Aquino III on Tuesday said the controversial Joint Marine Seismic Undertaking (JMSU) between the Philippines, China, and Vietnam "shouldn't have happened," saying it encroached into the country's territorial waters.
"Yung isa sa mga diniscuss naming ngayon yung joint seismic study na nag-e-encroach din sa ating territorial waters but nag-lapse na. Pero that shouldn't have happened," he said at the sidelines of the change of command and retirement ceremonies at the Philippine Navy headquarters in Manila.
Aquino added, he will not "inflame" tensions in the South China Sea.
"We will not inflame tension in the Spratly Island Group or the Kalayaan Island Group. We will always work to achieve diplomatic solutions to all these contending claims on the Kalayaan Group of Islands," he told reporters.
His comments came up when he was asked if he approved of explorations in the disputed areas in the South China Sea, after he vowed the government will pursue the modernization of the Philippine Navy.
In his speech during the ceremonies, he mentioned that the seas off Palawan, where oil exploration activities are being held, is being guarded by only two Navy boats - one of which is still fitted with outriggers.
When a reporter asked Aquino if this means he is in favor of explorations in the disputed areas in the South China Sea, the President said he was only referring to explorations done within the country's exclusive economic zones (EEZs).
"I don't think I mentioned something to that effect in the speech. Minention natin primarily dito sa mga areas that are within our exclusive economic zone: the portion of Sulu, the areas bounding Palawan. 'Di ba, yung Malampaya is in the northern portion. 'Yung southern portion na nabanggit, medyo malayo sa Kalayaan Group of Islands," he said.
Lapsed in 2008
The Philippines, China, Vietnam, Taiwan, Brunei and Malaysia have conflicting claims in the South China Sea.
Three of the six claimants – China, the Philippines and Vietnam – entered into the JMSU agreement in 2005. They gathered pre-exploratory seismic data on possible oil reserves.
Though it was an undertaking between private companies of the three nations, the governments endorsed the JMSU agreement as a way of promoting peace in the area.
The pact was signed during the administration of then President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.
The deal lapsed in July 1, 2008 and was not extended.
Critics of the Arroyo administration had said the JMSU undermined the country’s sovereignty and violated the Constitution since foreigners, particularly Chinese explorers, were allowed to conduct seismic tests in Philippine territorial waters.
Then Philippine National Oil Co. (PNOC) president Eduardo Mañalac said the agreement was designed to be scientific in nature.
Based on the terms of the JMSU, the three countries will be allowed to do exploratory work involving three activities such as data gathering, processing, and interpretation.
Under the agreement, China was assigned to gather the seismic data while Vietnam will process the information and the Philippines will conduct the interpretation.
PNOC Exploration Corp., China National Offshore Oil Corp. (CNOOC), and PetroVietnam started the second phase of the joint study in December 2007, which was to assess the petroleum potentials of certain areas in the South China Sea.
The Arroyo government had pushed for the realization of the agreement in the interest of building and maintaining peace, stability, security and prosperity in the contested areas in the South China Sea. With reports from ABS-CBN News, abs-cbnNEWS.com