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Palace should explain Spratlys seismic survey--Golez

March 10, 2008 22:33:00
TJ Burgonio
Philippine Daily Inquirer

MANILA, Philippines--The burden of explaining the agreement among the Philippines, China and Vietnam to conduct a seismic study in the disputed Spratly islands should rest on Malacañang, Parañaque City Rep. Roilo Golez said on Monday.

Golez said that while former Speaker Jose de Venecia Jr. negotiated it, it was the state-owned Philippine National Oil Co., which signed the Joint Marine Seismic Undertaking (JMSU) with government authorization.

"Joe de Venecia may know a lot of things, but the final approval was not by Joe de Venecia. It's still the PNOC, authorized by the government, who signed this," he said at a press forum at the Manila Hotel.

This was an "agreement on a government to government basis," he pointed out.

When asked if President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo should be held accountable for the agreement, he said: "That's the very objective of the inquiry. To find out whether this is advantageous or disadvantageous. If this is advantageous, who should we congratulate? If not, who should we sanction?"

The Philippines and China inked a bilateral agreement in 2004 to conduct a joint seismic study of areas in the Spratlys. After another claimant Vietnam objected to this, the JMSU was forged among the three in 2005.

Both the Senate and the House of Representatives are seeking separate inquiries into the JMSU that would zero in on charges this was a precondition for the granting of some $8 billion in loans from China. Despite severing his ties with her, De Venecia said he would defend President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo from criticisms of the deal, which he initiated to avoid wars with China and Vietnam, and to ensure energy security.

"Even if we're fighting, I will defend the President on this issue," he said in an interview over dzMM, arguing that the JMSU was thoroughly studied by the Cabinet, and did not violate any law.

"I thought of that agreement so we won't have to wage war with China and Vietnam [over Spratlys]. We have a very puny Navy and Air Force," he said.

After he was ousted as Speaker in early February, De Venecia turned from a staunch ally to a bitter critic of the President, calling for her resignation and her expulsion from the ruling Lakas-CMD party.

Golez warned that the JMSU was "dangerous" because the bid to conduct the seismic survey in the area was won by an affiliate of the China National Offshore Oil Corp., which signed the agreement on China's behalf.

"This is very dangerous because we open an area to data gathering that they (China) would have full control of," he said. He, however, forgot the name of the winning Chinese company.

"Are they going to fully share the information that they will be gathering? Do we have access to the information?" Golez asked.

This was on top of the fact that the agreement undermined the country's territorial integrity, and national security, the lawmaker said.

Golez agreed with observations that the agreement weakened the country's claim to the Spratlys.

"If you ask me, entering into this kind of cooperation weakened our position. If it covered the entire Spratlys, yes [it would have strengthened]. That would have been equitable. But this covers only our part of Spratlys, not China's or Vietnam's," he said.

"God help us if there's really oil in that area. We can't even defend Pugad island. We can't defend a small reef, the Mischief Reef," he said, referring to the islets claimed by the Philippines but taken over by Vietanemese and Chinese troops in the past years.

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