MANILA, Philippines – Former lawmakers have asked the Supreme Court to rule “immediately” on their 10-year-old petition to declare unconstitutional the 2004 trilateral exploration agreement reached by the Philippines, China and Vietnam. In seven years, the Arroyo government has signed 65 bilateral agreements with China, well beyond Ferdinand Marcos` eight agreements in nearly eleven years. In Marcos`s time, the Philippines and China were forming diplomatic relations. The signing of the agreement, Colmenares added, made it “very urgent” to resolve Bayan Muna`s petition to the SC. “We condemn Pres. Duterte has signed a secret agreement on oil and gas exploration with Chinese President Xi Jinping. We ask that the content of the agreement be made available to the public, as this could pave the way for the liquidation of our sovereign rights in the Western Philippine Sea and deprive the country of its enormous resources,” said Mr. Colmenares. Maaalac, who resigned in 2006, said in a press conference this week that these agencies had found “nothing wrong” with the details of the agreement, including the map showing the territory of the investigation. He said Energy Minister Vince Perez then authorized him to sign the JMSU pact. The wheels began to come for the JMSU when President Arroyo`s popularity plummeted on the sub-Ferdinand Marcos plains, amid accusations of impeachment and growing corruption. Among the most serious corruption charges were Chinese-funded agreements, such as the NBN transaction, which was eventually cancelled and made headlines, for example. The Philippines has been criticized for breaking ranks with ASEAN, and the Philippine Congress has begun investigating the JMSU and has questioned whether Philippine national security interests have been passed or not.
This resulted in the adoption in February 2010 of the Archipelago Baseline Act, which reoriented Philippine sovereign interests and prevented the government from entering into future JMSU-type agreements without procedure or transparency. In exchange for equality between China (and then Vietnam) in Philippine waters, Arroyo has concluded most bilateral agreements with China as part of the two countries` 30-year relationship with former presidents. (Click here to see the list of Rp-China bilateral agreements) The agreement signed in 2005 included PNOC, China National Offshore Oil Co. (CNOOC) and Vietnam Oil and Gas Corp. (PetroVietnam). It covered a total of 142,886 kilometers in the South China Sea and occupied nearly 80 percent of the Kalayaan group which, according to the Philippines, is claimed by the Philippines. Reed Bank near Palawan was also registered. Duterte is not Arroyo.
But the bitter aftertaste of this era remains, as do the structural constraints. Under the Philippine Constitution, any formal agreement or even a resource-sharing or joint exploration agreement in areas within the Philippines` exclusive economic zone, such as the resource-rich Reed Bank, which would be a candidate for joint development, would be contrary to Philippine law.