“The signing and approval of the memorandum under the direction of Duterte is a clear act of treason, a blatant betrayal of the sovereign rights and national patrimony of the Philippines and the Filipino people,” CPP founding chairman Jose Ma. Sison said in a statement.
“While it is still arguable that the memorandum is still merely an ‘agreement to agree,’ the Philippines and the Filipino people must effectively reject the memorandum,” he said, because it ignores the country’s legal victory in its arbitration case against China before the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) in 2016.
READ: Joint oil-gas hunt with China illegal, acting chief justice saysREAD: Carpio’s CJ bid unimpaired by WPS issue
The document, which was signed during the state visit of Chinese President Xi Jinping last week, also “puts China at par” with the Philippines, despite its indisputable sovereign rights and sole ownership of and authority over the resources in the West Philippine Sea, Sison said.
The Duterte administration, he charged, has done a “significant amount of damage” to the country’s sovereign rights as the deal would lead China to assume that the Philippines has junked the PCA ruling.
“To overcome the damage and counter the act of treason, the Philippines and the Filipino people must act immediately to nullify and waste-basket the memorandum. Otherwise, the traitor Duterte and his subalterns will commit more crimes of treason under the rule of confidentiality agreed upon in the memorandum,” he said.
But Carpio, who has been critical of the administration’s actions on the South China Sea, said he saw nothing objectionable in the government’s plan for joint exploration and development of natural resources with China in the West Philippine Sea.
Carpio said the memorandum of understanding signed by the two countries last week had safeguards to ensure that the sovereignty of the Philippines would not be compromised.
“I think we’re pretty safe. The government has included service contractors, so if we cooperate, if the cooperation with China on oil and gas activities will be through service contractors, we’re very safe,” the acting top magistrate said, in an interview.
Carpio, a known expert on issues pertinent to the Philippine claims in the South China Sea, explained that a service contract for the joint exploration of gas and oil in contested areas in the SCS could actually boost the country’s rights over its exclusive economic zones in the WPS.
“I don’t have any objection with that kind of arrangement because if China comes in through our service contractors, those service contracts expressly recognize that the area falls within Philippine sovereignty or sovereign rights,” he said.
Carpio even suggested that the service contractor in the Philippines’ Recto Bank, otherwise known as Reed Bank, Forum Energy, could tap a Chinese firm as a subcontractor.
Businessman Manuel V. Pangilinan’s PXP Energy Corporation, through its London-listed unit Forum Energy Plc, holds an exploration permit covering Recto Bank.
Carpio said China “can come in as a subcontractor of Forum Energy or it can buy into equity of Forum Energy, or it could do both.”
“That’s okay because they (Chinese) are coming in to our service contractors,” he said.
Carpio also said the proposed 60-40 sharing scheme with Beijing in the possible exploitation of resources in WPS could also be pursued for as long as the government can again make sure that the country’s sovereignty would not be compromised.
“As long as the joint development complies with the Philippine Constitution and there is no waiver of our sovereign rights under the arbitral ruling, I have no objection,” he said.
Carpio, one of the five Supreme Court justices shortlisted by the Judicial and Bar Council for the vacant chief justice post, was referring to the ruling of the Permanent Court of Arbitration in July 2016 in favor of the Philippines against China’s claims over South China Sea territories.
The PCA invalidated China’s nine-dash line claim to the South China Sea.
It also held that Beijing violated its commitment under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea in building artificial islands within the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone.
The MOU between China and the Philippines said an inter-governmental joint steering committee and an inter-entrepreneurial working group will be established and will be led by ministries of foreign affairs, as well as energy departments.
The Chinese identified China National Offshore Oil Corporation as the Chinese enterprise for each working group, while the Philippines has designated the Philippine National Oil Company-Exploration Corp. as the Philippine enterprise.
The MOU was also specific on the timeline of the agreement, stating that the “two governments will endeavor to agree on the cooperation arrangements within 12 months.”
The joint exploration, upon bearing fruit, would pave the way for another cooperation agreement on the exploitation of resources found, according to the same document.
But the MOU also specifically stated: “This Memorandum of Understanding does not create rights or obligations under international or domestic law.”
An MOU, unlike a memorandum of agreement or an actual contract, is not yet legally binding on the parties.
Meanwhile, Senate President Pro Tempore Ralph Recto said Cabinet members who signed the 29 deals with China during Xi’s state visit could face a grilling once the Senate begins floor debates on the 2019 national budget next month.
“This is to serve notice to department secretaries that the issue of the 29 agreements may crop up in the course of the plenary examination of their budget,” Recto said.
“So be prepared for queries. More so if the agreement binds us to a project which will be financed by loans, enlarges the national debt, or requires large budgetary counterpart requiring yearly appropriations,” he said.
The price tag of these commitments and the benefits that can be derived must be explained, Recto said.
“If these are grants and interest-free loans, then the Senate will be advised as well so that we can convey our thanks,” said Recto, adding that a senator during the budget debate can focus a powerful spotlight on these agreements.
But Senator Panfilo Lacson on Sunday said it is too early to draw any conclusions or make any comments on the deals because they have not been made public.
He added that it was premature and “cynical” to conclude that the President had surrendered the country’s rights and sovereignty by signing the agreements.
The senator also said the MOU with China merely states that two parties are willing to move towards a common direction and a common line of action.
Lacson said copies of the agreements have already been sent to Senate President Vicente Sotto III.
READ: Lacson snipes at Joma: Ignore him, he’s out of touch with Reds
COMMENT DISCLAIMER: Reader comments posted on this Web site are not in any way endorsed by Manila Standard. Comments are views by manilastandard.net readers who exercise their right to free expression and they do not necessarily represent or reflect the position or viewpoint of manilastandard.net. While reserving this publication’s right to delete comments that are deemed offensive, indecent or inconsistent with Manila Standard editorial standards, Manila Standard may not be held liable for any false information posted by readers in this comments section.