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Lawmaker fears RP will lose out in race for Spratlys oil

March 11, 2008 06:27:00
Norman Bordadora TJ Burgonio
Philippine Daily Inquirer

MANILA, Philippines—Parañaque Rep. Roilo Golez Monday voiced fears that the country might lose out in the race for the oil that may lie under its side of the South China Sea because of the Joint Marine Seismic Undertaking (JMSU) with China and Vietnam.

The agreement is disadvantageous to the country because it covers an area that is predominantly undisputed Philippine territory, according to Golez.

“The sad part is that the survey area, which is 142,000 square kilometers out of the 410,000, is on our side of the Spratlys,” he said at a news conference in the House of Representatives.

The Chinese Ministry of Geology estimates that some 200 billion barrels lie beneath the whole of the Spratlys group, according to the House senior deputy minority leader.

“That’s $20 trillion under the current oil prices,” Golez said.

“God help us if oil is found there. Because we’ve already lost an island. We’ve lost a reef. What more are we going to lose when we are tangling with the two giants in the Spratlys area, China and Vietnam,” he told reporters.

Golez said the Philippines lost Pugad Island to the Vietnamese in the early 1980s and Mischief Reef to the Chinese in the 1990s. China and Vietnam also have two of the largest armed forces in the world.

“If there are three persons going together into the jungles looking for treasure, and then all of a sudden they found a substantial amount of treasure and one of them was better armed, what do you think will happen?” he said.

The Philippines and China signed 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 countries the following year.

Golez said that while he was not ascribing ill-motives to any party to the Spratlys deal, “prudence dictates that we prepare for any contingency.”

Strategic information

Seismic surveys under the agreement involve strategic information on what lies beneath the Philippine side of the South China Sea, he said.

He added that the group conducting the survey was an affiliate of China National Offshore Oil Co.

Golez said Malacañang was wrong in trying to downplay the significance of the agreement as only one for surveying.

“Why will you survey if you don’t intend to explore?” he asked.

Golez, a former national security adviser and a former naval officer, said the JMSU involved not only a constitutional issue but also the country’s territorial integrity and energy security.

Zone of concession

Because of the JMSU, the Spratly group has become a “zone of concession” instead of a “zone of cooperation,” he said.

Golez said Eduardo Mañalac, a former Philippine National Oil Co. president, would have to explain where he got the authority to sign for the Philippine government for the JMSU.

Palace should explain deal

The onus of explaining the agreement stops with Malacañang, Golez said.

While former Speaker Jose de Venecia Jr. negotiated the agreement, it was state-owned PNOC that signed the JMSU with government authorization, according to Golez.

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

This is an “agreement on a government-to-government basis,” Golez pointed out.

Inquiry

Asked if President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo should be held accountable for the agreement, Golez 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?”

Both the Senate and the House of Representatives are seeking separate inquiries into the JMSU that would zero in on charges that this was a precondition for the granting of some $8-billion loan package from China.

Avoiding war

Despite severing his ties with her, De Venecia said he would defend Ms 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 had been 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 agreed with observations that the agreement weakened the country’s claim to the Spratlys.

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