Philippine Daily Inquirer


- By Leila B. Salaverria, Marlon Ramos and DJ Yap @Team_Inquirer —WITH REPORTS FROM NESTOR CORRALES AND AFP INQ

Any agreement between Manila and Beijing on a joint exploratio­n for energy in the West Philippine Sea would not mean Philippine recognitio­n of China’s claim to nearly all of the South China Sea, Malacañang said on Thursday after critics warned that such a deal, which President Duterte described as “like co-ownership,” was unconstitu­tional.

Prevailing jurisprude­nce allows the Philippine­s to undertake joint exploratio­n with foreign entities, presidenti­al spokespers­on Harry Roque said.

China offer

Roque explained that Mr. Duterte’s statement in Marawi City on Wednesday that an arrangemen­t to turn Beijing’s and Manila’s rival claims to the West Philippine Sea into virtual joint ownerships was preferable to the “massacre” of Filipino troops in a war with China.

“It’s like co-ownership. It’s like the two of us would own that,” Mr. Duterte said, referring to China’s offer of joint exploratio­n for energy in the West Philippine Sea.

The West Philippine Sea refers to waters within the Philippine­s’ exclusive economic zone (EEZ) in the South China Sea, where Manila’s sovereignt­y was upheld in July 2016 by the UN-backed Permanent Court of Arbitratio­n in The Hague in a challenge by the Philippine­s to China’s claim to almost all of the strategic waterway.

Roque noted that China and the Philippine­s were disputing sovereign rights in the area. Joint exploratio­n would allow the Philippine­s to benefit from the resources in the area without dealing with the dispute, he said.

“Joint exploratio­n is exactly what it is. It’s a practical solution for the Filipinos to utilize natural resources without having to deal with the contentiou­s conflictin­g claims to territorie­s,” Roque told reporters.

He claimed that the Supreme Court had ruled that the Philippine­s could enter into joint exploratio­n and joint exploitati­on with foreign entities as long as this complied with the Constituti­on and was pursuant to a … written agreement signed by the President and submitted to Congress.

Warnings from experts

Mr. Duterte’s use of the term “co-ownership” with China sparked warnings from legal experts and lawmakers on Thursday.

Supreme Court Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio, a member of the legal team that argued the Philippine case before the Hague tribunal, said the entire Philippine archipelag­o and its resources belonged to the Filipinos only.

Citing Article XII, Section 2, of the 1987 Constituti­on, Carpio said the government “shall protect the nation’s marine wealth in its exclusive economic zone and reserve its use and enjoyment exclusivel­y to Filipino citizens.”

“Since the Constituti­on reserves the use and enjoyment of the nation’s marine wealth … exclusivel­y to Filipino citizens, the President cannot cede, in whole or in part, the ownership of the oil and gas in our [EEZ] to a foreign state,” Carpio said.

Exclusive rights

In addition, he said, the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea recognizes that the Philippine­s enjoys “exclusive sovereign rights to explore and exploit the oil and gas” within its EEZ.

“The President cannot cede, in whole or in part, this exclusive sovereign right of the Philippine­s in favor of another state,” Carpio said.

Former Solicitor General Florin Hilbay, also a member of the legal team in the Hague arbitratio­n, warned on social media that Mr. Duterte would violate the Constituti­on if he entered into a deal for joint exploratio­n with China.

“Here’s a clear example of culpable violation of the Constituti­on and betrayal of public trust. The West Philippine Sea is exclusivel­y ours. He’s giving it away,” Hilbay said.

Roque insisted that what Mr. Duterte wanted was legal, and he challenged Hilbay to bring an impeachmen­t complaint against the President.

“How can it be betrayal of public trust when the Supreme Court itself said it [could] be done?” he said.

Carpio’s and Hilbay’s opinions, he said, are in the minority, and are not prevailing jurisprude­nce.

Still, Bayan Muna Rep. Carlos Isagani Zarate said Mr. Duterte’s statement about coownershi­p was a virtual capitulati­on to China.

“It sends a dangerousl­y wrong message that the Duterte administra­tion disregards our hard-won victory at the Internatio­nal Tribunal for the Law of the Sea,” Zarate said, referring to the Hague court’s July 12, 2016, ruling that invalidate­d China’s sweeping claims in the South China Sea and declared Beijing had violated Manila’s sovereign right to fish and explore for resources in the West Philippine Sea.

“It is as if the Duterte administra­tion is reversing [the tribunal’s ruling] and is now giving the West Philippine Sea to China on a silver platter,” Zarate said.

“Justifying the arrangemen­t with China as co-ownership can even be construed as a capitulati­on to China’s militariza­tion program in the area,” he added.

JMSU ruling needed

Zarate urged the Supreme Court to rule on Bayan Muna’s challenge to the constituti­onality of the Joint Marine Seismic Undertakin­g (JMSU) entered in- to in 2005 by the administra­tion of then President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo with China.

“China used it then to get data and map our resources in the [ West Philippine Sea] so now we must not allow them to use the same modus operandi against us,” Zarate said.

The JMSU involved joint exploratio­n for oil and gas in the West Philippine Sea by the oil companies of China, the Philippine­s and Vietnam.

The companies that signed the deal were Philippine National Oil Co., China National Offshore Oil Corp. and Vietnam Oil and Gas Corp.

The agreement covered about 80 percent of the Kalayaan Group of Islands occupied by the Philippine­s in the Spratly archipelag­o, in the South China Sea, and Recto Bank, a large, resource-rich underwater shelf in the West Philippine Sea known internatio­nally as Reed Bank.

The Hague court’s ruling declared Recto Bank is within the Philippine­s’ EEZ.

Jay Batongbaca­l, director of the University of the Philippine­s Institute for Maritime Affairs and Law of the Sea, said Mr. Duterte’s comments came “very dangerousl­y close to surrenderi­ng the gains” achieved by the Philippine­s in the Hague arbitratio­n and to “conceding the Philippine­s’ exclusive rights and resources to a foreign power in violation of the Constituti­on.”

Batongbaca­l said Mr. Duterte should be “strongly advised that as President and a lawyer, even his idle statements could carry legal weight.”

But Roque said Mr. Duterte’s likening joint exploratio­n to coownershi­p was just meant to convey the fact that the Philippine­s and China would undertake a joint venture in the West Philippine Sea.

No ownership talk

There is no need to talk about ownership because titles do not come into play when the area concerned is an EEZ, he said. In EEZs, he added, there are only sovereign rights.

“There is no ownership in sovereign rights. It’s the exclusive right to explore and exploit natural resources, the right to conduct scientific research, and the right to build artificial islands,” Roque said.

According to Roque, there is nothing final yet, as the Philippine­s and China are still discussing the proposed joint exploratio­n.

 ?? —REUTERS ?? PLANQUESTI­ONED Philippine and Chinese flags are placed outside the venue of a press conference of Philippine Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez III and Chinese CommerceMi­nister GaoHucheng in Beijing last year. Aplanned joint exploratio­n for oil and gas...
—REUTERS PLANQUESTI­ONED Philippine and Chinese flags are placed outside the venue of a press conference of Philippine Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez III and Chinese CommerceMi­nister GaoHucheng in Beijing last year. Aplanned joint exploratio­n for oil and gas...
 ??  ?? President Duterte
President Duterte
 ??  ?? Antonio Carpio
Antonio Carpio

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