China claims draft oil exploration deal to have no bearing on sovereignty

Patricia Lourdes Viray - Philstar.com
China claims draft oil exploration deal to have no bearing on sovereignty
Chinese President Xi Jinping (C) walks past honour guard along with Philipine military chief Carlito Galvez (R) shortly after arriving at Manila international airport on Nov. 20, 2018. Xi is on his first state visit to the Philippines, a traditional US ally that is a key prize as Beijing and Washington jostle for supremacy in the Pacific.
AFP / Ted Aljibe

MANILA, Philippines (Updated 5:19 p.m.) — Despite possible legal hurdles it will face in the Philippines, China is still insisting in its proposal for a joint oil and gas exploration in the West Philippine Sea that the activity will not interfere in the two countries' positions in the longtime maritime dispute.

The supposed Chinese draft of the framework agreement on joint exploration in the West Philippine Sea would be in accordance with the principles of "mutual respect, fairness and mutual benefit, flexibility and pragmatism and consensus," the document read. 

The camp of opposition Sen. Antonio Trillanes IV released the two-page draft on Tuesday afternoon, hours after Chinese President Xi Jinping landed in Manila for a two-day state visit.

"The joint oil and gas exploration shall not affect the respective position on sovereignty and maritime rights and interests of the two parties," the draft read.

The Chinese draft also indicated that the outcome of the joint exploration will be shared by Manila and Beijing.

The draft authorized China National Offshore Oil Corportation as the Chinese enterprise in the agreement while the Philippine enterprise remained blank.

Under the draft agreement, a working group composed of ministries of foreign affairs, energy department and relevant agencies would serve as working mechanism.

"Any dispute concerning the implementation or interpretation of the agreement or any other relevant disputes shall be settled through friendly consultation by the two parties," it read.

On Monday, Trillanes and Sen. Francis Pangilinan filed a Senate resolution calling for the release of the "definitive draft" of the oil and gas deals with China before signing.

The two senators also urged President Rodrigo Duterte not to sign any agreement with China or any other country "which diminishes the Philippines' exclusive rights."

Amid the release of the supposed draft of the agreement on joint exploration, it remains unclear if this would be signed during Xi's meeting with President Rodrigo Duterte on Tuesday afternoon.

Malacañang, meanwhile, said that it does not matter if talks that China crafted the framework were true.

"Doesn't matter who drafted it. As far as we’re concerned, if you give us a draft then we will go over it," presidential spokesperson Salvador Panelo said.

Legal questions

The Philippine government has offered a 60-40 sharing on the proposed joint exploration deal but this was not mentioned in the draft, which supposedly came from China. Critics have earlier warned that the country might be at a "losing end" if it would pursue the project.

Based on the 1987 Constitution, the "exploration, development, and utilization of natural resources shall be under the full control and supervision of the [Philippine] State." This is a potential legal challenge that the Duterte government and its Chinese partners in the deal may face.

In its briefer, the University of the Philippines' Strategic Studies Program said that efforts toward the finalization of the deal would require "addressing other confounding issues, such as questions of sovereignty and implications of the Hague ruling on the disputed territories."

Earlier this year, Malacañang confirmed that two areas are being considered for the possible joint exploration — Service Contract (SC) 57, which covers northwest Palawan, and SC 72 which refers to Reed Bank. SC 57 is located in a non-contested area while Reed Bank is disputed, which requires an agreement from both parties for the deal to push through.

As It Happens
LATEST UPDATE: November 22, 2018 - 7:38pm

Former Deputy Speaker Lorenzo "Erin" Tañada calls on Filipinos to "help the administration be alert and protect the national interest" ahead of the scheduled visit of Chinese President Xi Jinping this week.

"This is an 'All Hands on Deck' situation, because our sovereignty is on the line. There are issues on Filipino jobs, public debt, and national territory to be agreed on that will affect us all for generations to come," Tañada says in a statement.

Xi is set to visit from Tuesday, November 20, to Wednesday, November 21. His visit signals 13 years since the last state visit of a Chinese president during the Arroyo administration.

"We know that the Chinese heads of state are shrewd negotiators and they will not waste this visit without closing key agreements. The last time we had a visit from China—President Hu Jintao in 2005—they were able to extract the highly questionable Joint Marine Seismic Undertaking (JMSU) from President Arroyo. We do not want a repeat of that or give up more of our sovereignty in the West Philippine Sea," the Liberal Party senatorial candidate says.

Tañada, who is a senatorial aspirant, says he himself will be watching for any agreements relating to loans and the protection of Filipino jobs, "in view of information that while 6 million Filipinos are unemployed, the government also permitted the entry of more than 3 million Chinese workers in the last two years."

November 22, 2018 - 7:38pm

Chinese President Xi Jinping has written President Rodrigo Duterte to extend his gratitude for the friendship and hospitality extended to him during his state visit to Manila.

"During my visit, I had talks with you, and held meetings with House Speaker Gloria Arroyo and Senate President Vicente Sotto III. We had in-depth exchange of views, reached important agreement on our bilateral relations and issues of shared interest, and witness the signing of a series of cooperation documents. I am truly pleased with the fruitful outcomes of this visit," he says in a letter released by the Chinese Embassy.

"During the visit, I was once again deeply touched by your sincerity and determination to grow our bilateral relations and by the friendly sentiment of the Philippine people toward the Chinese people. I am also deeply impressed by your insight into China-Philippines relations and the current international situation, which proves once again that China and the Philippines are partners in a common journey toward peace and development," Xi also says in his letter.

"I set great store by China-Philippines relations and value my personal friendship with you, Mr. President. I will work with you to strengthen political mutual trust and deepen practical cooperation in all fields so that the tree of China-Philippines friendship will grow more luxuriant and bear more fruits."

November 20, 2018 - 2:36pm

The camp of Sen. Antonio Trillanes releases a copy of the supposed China draft of the framework for the joint oil exploration deal with the Philippines.

The draft says that the two countries have agreed to conduct joint explorations for oil and gas in the South China Sea "[in] accordance with the principles of mutual respect, fairness and mutual benefit, flexibility and pragmatism and consensus."

The draft also states that the joint deal "shall not affect" the position on sovereignty and maritime rights and interests of the two countries in the disputed sea.

China claims it has historic rights over virtually the entire resource-rich South China Sea based on the "nine-dash line," which was invalidated in 2016 in the winning case of the Philippines against the Asian giant before an international tribunal in the Hague. 

This proposed framework, however, is likely to face a legal hurdle in the Philippines due to questions on sovereignty and its implications on the Hague ruling. 

Under Article XII, Section 2 of the 1987 Constitution, the "exploration, development, and utilization of natural resources shall be under the full control and supervision of the [Philippine] State."

November 20, 2018 - 12:07pm

Chinese President Xi Jinping arrives at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport.

November 20, 2018 - 9:10am

Former Solicitor General Florin Hilbay says President Rodrigo Duterte has rolled out the red carpet for China’s rule over the West Philippine Sea with Chinese President Xi Jinping's visit to the Philippines.

He adds that the proposed joint exploration deal between the Philippines and China is illegal and unconstitutional. The terms for a joint exploration deal with China and the proposed lifting of the oil exploration ban in the disputed waters are expected to be discussed during Xi's visit.

"Our victory meant we could uphold our economic sovereignty and have full control over the resources in that area which, according to the 2016 Hague ruling, is not shared with China. Under our Constitution, it constitutes part of our national territory.  But a joint agreement with China is essentially a waiver of the decision in Philippines v. China. For Duterte to bargain this away and let China have their own way over our natural resources is a complete betrayal of the trust that the Filipino people gave him in May 2016," the former solicitor general added. ##

As the main agent in the 2013 case against China's claim over virtually the entire South China Sea, it was Hilbay's task to convince the tribunal that it has jurisdiction under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea to hear the sea dispute.

The Philippines won the case against China in 2016.

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