An agreement on oil exploration with China in the resource-rich waters of West Philippine Sea should be drafted by the Philippines, Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. said Wednesday, contradicting the remarks of a Palace spokesman.
“Palace Com doesn’t care if it is a Chinese draft? I fu*k*n* care!” Locsin said in a Twitter post Wednesday morning.
“A framework or architecture for gas and oil in our part of the sea demands that draft be MINE... MIO... FILIPINO,” he said.
Locsin’s tweet was in reaction to Presidential Spokesman Salvador Panelo’s statement the previous day that “it doesn’t matter” who drafts the joint agreement to explore the disputed waters for oil and gas.
Earlier, opposition Senators Francis Pangilinan and Antonio Trillanes IV called for President Rodrigo Duterte to make public the draft of the oil and gas exploration agreement with China before officially signing the deal.
They also filed a resolution asking the Senate committee on energy to investigate the details of the agreement, which was drafted in time for Chinese President Xi Jinping’s state visit to Manila.
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On Wednesday, during the exchange ceremony of signed documents witnessed by both Duterte and Xi in Malacañang, Locsin and Chinese Minister of Foreign Affairs Wang Yi exchanged the signed agreement entitled “Memorandum of Understanding on Cooperation on Oil and Gas Development between the Philippines and China.”
Energy Secretary Alfonso Cusi said the MOU was crafted to find ways the country can benefit from the resource-filled waters in the disputed sea.
Cusi told reporters, however, that the Energy department doesn’t have a copy of the agreement yet.
The Palace issued a statement asking the public to understand that the Department of Foreign Affairs was still preoccupied with Xi’s activities during the second day of his visit, and that it would release “all pertinent information for public consumption” once Xi’s visit ended.
After his meeting with House Speaker Gloria Macapagal Arroyo and Senate President Vicente Sotto III, Xi departed Manila at about 1:30 p.m. on Wednesday.
On Wednesday, Senator Francis Escudero joined other senators in asking that the Palace release details of the agreements signed with China.
“We are appealing that everything signed should be made known to the public,” he said, adding that it was Malacañang’s obligation to release copies of the documents signed.
“It is their obligation to let us know. They should be proud of what they signed if they have the best interest of the public [in mind] when they made those agreements,” he said.
Senator Grace Poe said transparency and accountability was all-important.
In the case of oil exploration in the West Philippine Sea, this was not just an economic issue, but a matter of sovereignty, she said.
“Let us not forget that we have at our fingertips the legal victory from the international arbitral tribunal. We should use this to our advantage,” he said.
“The government owes it to the Filipinos to divulge the details of the agreements to see if there are potentials for red flags or if there are elements that would put us at a disadvantage,” she added.
Opposition Senator Leila de Lima demanded not only “full transparency” but “extreme scrutiny” of all the 29 deals recently entered into by the two countries.
“Considering that the interests of China are totally opposed to ours, especially in respect to the West Philippine Sea issue, the government should always follow the principles of transparency and accountability which require that the terms of any deals or loan agreement be subjected to extreme scrutiny to protect our country’s economy and national security,” she said in a statement.
“Alarmingly, Malacañang has not given the Filipino public complete details about its Memorandum of Understanding with China aside from the number of deals signed and [their] title[s],” she added.
The senator noted that President Duterte’s “inclination” to favor Chinese nationals has since “posed serious concerns about his loyalty to serve the country and the Filipino people.”
“As I’ve said before, Duterte’s lack of transparency on his dealings with his Chinese masters raises questions whether or not his loyalty belongs to China or the Philippines,” De Lima said.
Since last year, De Lima has been filing several resolutions seeking a Senate probe into various loans and investment deals that the Duterte administration had entered into with China.
The senator, who is detained while facing illegal drugs charges, chairs the Senate committee on social justice, welfare and rural development.
Another opposition senator, Risa Hontiveros, said the President failed to assert the country’s sovereignty after he signed a framework agreement with China on joint maritime oil and gas exploration.
Hontiveros made the statement after a copy of the agreement was leaked to the media.
If the leaked copy of the agreement is proven authentic, she noted that the President signed a document that did not assert our Constitution and sovereignty in the West Philippine Sea against China’s discredited nine-dash line, which lays claim to every shoal, reef and islet in the region.
Hontiveros decried the absence of the 60-40 equity rule in the agreement as required by the 1987 Constitution. She also hit the agreement’s confidentiality clause, which states that any document, information or data concerning the joint exploration shall be kept confidential.
The Senator also pointed to the dispute settlement provision of the agreement, which she said favors so-called friendly consultations instead of arbitration and other multilateral approaches.
Hontiveros called on the executive branch to divulge the full details of the agreement together with 28 other agreements signed by the Philippine government with China during Xi’s visit.
“The people need to scrutinize all these documents. We need to know whether or not these agreements are compatible with our sovereign and territorial interests and in full compliance with our international obligations, particularly the arbitral tribunal ruling on the West Philippine Sea,” Hontiveros said.
“The Senate must lead this initiative given that it has material interest in ensuring that the foreign policy adopted by the executive is in the best interest of Filipino citizens,” she added.
Vice President Leni Robredo also called for transparency, saying the Filipino people deserve to know who will benefit from the agreements signed.
Meanwhile, in his opening statement during the joint call on both Houses of Congress by the Chinese leader, Senate President Vicente C. Sotto III emphasized the importance of good diplomatic relations between the Philippines and China.
Moreover, he said there is much more that binds the Philippines and China together than what may divide the two.
In his response, President Xi said the South China Sea is a sea of friendship and cooperation that creates a bond of friendship for the two nations.
The leftist party-list group Bayan Muna on Wednesday prodded the Supreme Court to resolve its 10-year-old petition assailing the constitutionality of a similar agreement during the administration of former President and now House Speaker Gloria Macapagal Arroyo in 2005.
In a 12-page motion, Bayan Muna chairman Neri Colmenares asked the SC to rule on their petition in 2008 that challenged the constitutionality of the Joint Marine Seismic Undertaking signed by Arroyo with China and Vietnam.
The petitioner stressed the high court should now rule on the case to effectively block the joint exploration agreement on the West Philippine Sea signed by President Duterte with Xi.
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