SC asked to rule on petition seeking to nullify 2005 joint exploration deal

Mike Navallo, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Nov 23 2018 10:35 AM | Updated as of Nov 23 2018 10:58 AM

MANILA - Bayan Muna has asked the Supreme Court to rule on a 2008 petition seeking to nullify a 2005 joint exploration agreement in the South China Sea between China, Vietnam and the Philippines.

In a motion filed on Monday, Bayan Muna Chairperson Neri Colmenares asked the high court to clarify the status of the case, which had been submitted for resolution as early 2010, and to immediately decide on their petition to declare the Joint Marine Seismic Undertaking (JMSU) as unconstitutional and detrimental to the national interest.

The 2005 agreement ended in 2008 but Bayan Muna wants the SC to rule on the issues in the case because of the possibility that a similar agreement might be signed again.

Signed during the term of then President and now House Speaker Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, the exploration gave the three countries, through their oil companies Philippine National Oil Co., China National Offshore Oil Corp., and Vietnam Oil and Gas Corp., the authority to “engage in a joint research” of sources of petroleum over a 142,886-sq-km area in the South China Sea as a pre-exploration activity.

Over 1/6 of the area, according to Bayan Muna, indisputably belongs to the Philippines.

In addition, the area also includes 80% of the Spratly Group of Islands which the country is claiming as part of its territorial and maritime jurisdiction.

Bayan Muna argued that what the JMSU actually did was to do seismic work, survey or mapping which constituted “exploration,” an activity limited to the “full control and supervision of the State” under the 1987 Constitution.

“[A]s far as the oil and gas industry is concerned, seismic work, survey or mapping is considered an intergral part of the exploration process of petroleum and other mineral oils, and not a mere pre-exploration activity,” it said in the motion.

“This is because the purpose of seismic work, survey or mapping, with respect to petroleum and other mineral oils, is to detect and determine the existence or extent of oil or gas deposits beneath the Earth’s surface,” it explained.

In a statement, Bayan Muna alleged that China became aggressive after the JMSU because it managed to pinpoint the exact location of natural gas and oil reserves in the area.

In contrast, the Philippines was only given blurred images and vague data despite the JMSU provision that all information gathered should be equally shared among the 3 countries, the group said.

“Tuso ang gobiyerno ng Tsina, bakit magtitiwala tayong mga Pilipino dito? Dapat pigilan ito,” Colmenares said.

CHINA-PHILIPPINES SECRET OIL AND GAS EXPLORATION

The former lawmaker warned that Tuesday’s signing of a joint oil and gas exploration agreement between the Philippines and China during Chinese President Xi Jinping’s visit to Manila will most likely go the same way as the 2005 joint exploration deal.

Colmenares alleged that the 2005 joint exploration deal was signed in exchange for loans to fund “overpriced and corruption-ridden projects like the NBN-ZTE deal and the Northrail project.”

No government agency has released a copy of the new exploration agreement yet, but excerpts of it were read by Foreign Affairs Secretary Teddy Boy Locsin in a television interview.

“We denounce Pres. Duterte’s signing of a secret Oil and Gas Exploration Memorandum of Understanding with China’s Pres. Xi Jinping. We demand that the contents of the agreement be disclosed to the public as this might pave the way for the sellout of our sovereign rights in the West Philippine Sea and deprive the country of its vast resources,” said Colmenares.

The senatorial candidate warned the Manila-Beijing agreement might have placed China at a stronger legal footing in its claim over the country’s exclusive economic zone, bury the Philippines in debt, and deprive Filipinos of trillions of cubic meters of natural gas and hundreds of millions of barrels of oil.

“These resources could practically fund free education, free medical and hospitalization and many other social services for the Filipino people. Sacrificing these in exchange for billions of dollars in high interest loans is treasonous,” he said.

The signing of the agreement, Colmenares added, has made the need to resolve Bayan Muna’s petition before the SC “very urgent.”

“We have to stop Duterte from selling out the country. We urge the people to vehemently condemn this latest threat to Philippine sovereignty. We urge the Supreme Court to urgently intervene and put a stop to this latest sellout of the Philippines and the Filipino,” he said.