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PNOC: JMSU area all in RP

March 19, 2008 02:06:00
Abigail L. Ho
Philippine Daily Inquirer

MANILA, Philippines—The entire 142,886-square-kilometer area covered by the controversial Joint Marine Seismic Undertaking (JMSU) among the Philippines, China and Vietnam is all under Philippine territory, the president of the Philippine National Oil Co. (PNOC) said.

“We own those,” PNOC president Antonio Cailao said, referring to the areas encompassed by the JMSU.

He added, however, that the tripartite accord among PNOC, China National Offshore Oil Co. and Vietnam Oil and Gas Corp. was a purely commercial agreement and was not at all political in nature.

Also, such an agreement had a precedent.

“There are many commercial contracts that involved foreign entities and this is just another one of them. In other words, in the earlier days, there was a joint Australian-Philippine cooperation, a joint Norwegian-Philippine cooperation,” he said in a briefing Tuesday. “Inviting other commercial entities of other nationalities is a very common practice.”

Unlike with China and Vietnam, the Philippines is not involved in any territorial disputes with Australia or Norway.

In an earlier interview, former PNOC president and JMSU signatory Eduardo Mañalac said the tripartite agreement explicitly states that each of the three countries’ claims on the Spratlys Islands would not be compromised.

Should the JMSU go to the next level, that is, to actual exploration, development and production, that would be a different story, Manalac said.

“The intent is really to drill there. Why would we spend millions of dollars doing seismic if there’s no intention to drill? But then the three governments need to talk to get a common, acceptable contract,” he said.

“The three countries have different laws. We should follow all those laws. That’s what’s going to be difficult. I encourage all three governments to honestly and earnestly pursue this,” he said, adding that the first batch of data gathered from the JMSU area was “very encouraging.”

Cailao said the JMSU, which he said was pre-exploratory in nature and could best be described as a scientific study, mentioned nothing about actual exploration in the covered area.

He said the tripartite agreement could still be extended beyond the impending July deadline, despite the controversy surrounding it.

“(The extension) is still being studied and will all depend on the outcome of the data gathered, processed and interpreted. The decision is still being evaluated. Everything we do will depend on the study,” he said.

At this point, he said there were still no clear indications as to the oil potentials of the JMSU area.

For his part, Energy Secretary Angelo Reyes said PNOC would continue to deal with the technical side of the study, while the Department of Justice would tackle its legal side.

He did not comment on the territorial dispute issue and the alleged unconstitutionality of allowing China and Vietnam to engage in surveys in waters the Philippines considers to be part of its territory.

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