Ellen Tordesillas on the “Stinking” Spratly Deal Ellen writes for “Abante” (a tabloid) and “Malaya” (a broadsheet) in Manila

March 12, 2008

A stinking deal

Related stories:

Statement of former DOE and PNOC heads
GMANewsTV: Seismic study showed 3 trillion cubic meters of oil in agreement area
GMANewsTV: Senate to start Spratlys probe
Siazon denies Drilon story

ABS-CBN:Political noise endangers Spratlys deal

How important is the JMSU (Joint Marine Seismic Undertaking) in the Spratly islands to China can be seen by how the Asia-Pacific superpower broke its traditional practice of spacing state visits to accommodate Gloria Arroyo in September 2004.

Diplomatic sources said the September 2004 visit to China was a “JDV initiative”, referring to former House Speaker Jose de Venecia. The occasion was “The Third International Conference of Asian Political Parties.”

On the sidelines, but a very important sideline, was the signing of a number of projects including the $400 million North rail project that will connect Manila to Clark and the JMSU.

The source said DFA was feeling uncomfortable being left out in many of the pre-visit talks, particularly the ones related to the JMSU.

They advised Arroyo that the ICAPP was too minor an event for her to go to China. “It should be a state visit,” they said thinking that it would not be possible that year because the Malaysian had just made a state visit. Usually a host country limits the number of state visits in a year.

Arroyo told JDV about DFA’s recommendation. Much to the surprise of the DFA people, JDV was able get an invitation from the Chinese government for Arroyo to make a state visit.

The source said he had the sense that the Northrail project and the JMSU were tied. So when they brought up the problem that agreement is in violation of the constitutional prohibition of foreigners undertaking exploration of the country’s natural resources, as expressed by then Acting Secretary Merceditas Gutierrez, JDV snapped at them.

But JDV’s group did something about Gutierrez concern because the word “exploration” disappeared from the document and the agreement became for a “joint marines seismic undertaking”. Very smart.

A DFA official, who asked not to be named, said the government may be able to get away with the JMSU because it can be argued that no exploration has taken place but if the survey’s results are positive, that would really be a problem. The Philippines has included some 284,000 square kilometers of undisputed Philippine territory in the agreement area and allowing China and Vietnam to explore the country’s natural resources is clearly a violation of the Constitution.

At least six of the eight islands occupied by the Philippine military in the South China are included in the JMSU. As background information, the Kalayaan Island Group which refers to the whole area that the Philippines has staked its claim includes some 53 islets. We have military presence in eight of those islands.

Four of the islands occupied by Vietnam are also included. So are five occupied by China and one, Itu Aba, occupied by Taiwan, non-signatory to the agreement.

JDV and Foreign Secretary Alberto Romulo wax ecstatic about the JMSU saying “it manifests responsible diplomacy to ease tension and promote confidence-building in a region where, as noted in the article, the issue of sovereignty of the Spratly Islands remains a potential ‘flashpoint.”

That applies to the disputed area. But how does the government justify the inclusion of 284,000 square kilometers of Philippine territory that are not disputed?

In the agreement, “All the data and information acquired fort he fulfillment of the Seismic work…and their interpretation shall be jointly owned by the Parties. In the event any Party wishes to sell or disclose the above-mentioned data and information after the expiration of the confidentiality term, prior written consent therefore shall be obtained from the other Party.”

China and Vietnam become co-owners of data and information gathered from our own territory! This is not simply a commercial transaction as played down by Malacañang. These are matters involving patrimony and sovereignty. Of exercising supreme dominion over that have been handed to us by our forefathers..

Retired Commodore Rex Robles is being diplomatic when he said,” it has the flavor of treason.” It stinks.

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