"The US may decide to defend us if that will serve its interest."
US naval presence in the South China Sea is not meant to keep open the international waterway or to pre-empt China from engulfing littoral states in the area but to ensure that the Reed or Recto Bank remains open to foreign investment under the auspices of the US. The dispute now simmering is not about the security of the countries in the region but one of securing the economic interest of the US over that vast reserve of natural gas and oil recently discovered.
The report made by the US Energy Information Administration revealed that the Reed Bank could hold up to 5.4 billion barrels of oil and 55.1 trillion cubic feet (tcf) of natural gas. Data from the US Geological Survey (USGS) show that the area contains significant deposits of undiscovered hydrocarbons. It is estimated that anywhere between 0.8 and 5.4 (mean 2.5) billion barrels of oil and between 7.6 and 55.1 (mean 25.5 tcf) of natural gas lay underneath the seabed. The whole of Southeast Asia is estimated by the EIA to contain approximately 11 billion barrels of oil and 190 tcf of natural gas in proved and probable reserves.
It is this discovery that caused the US to refocus and redefine its geopolitical interest culminating in the return of the US bases in the country in an era when the Cold War has almost been forgotten. The return of the US bases, which is the only one of its kind, is foretelling that it has nothing to do with the security arrangement but pursuant to that redefined security interest of the US of preventing China from exploring, developing and exploiting of those resources to the exclusion of its corporations.
Apparently, this is why the US repositioned its forces called by President Obama as “Pivot to Asia” and pursued by President Trump but dropping the slogan for obvious reasons. From then on, the US has been drumbeating the same the line that its presence in the South China Sea is to keep the sea lanes open. Even if the US has not categorically identified the enemy, its presence in the Philippines is pivotal to protecting the area from any possible incursion and provides justification to intervene in this part of the Pacific.
The military agreement entered into by the B.S Aquino administration is incoherent to the objective of why we allowed the return of the US bases. Filipinos are wondering, considering that the current tension is reminiscent of the Cold War. Political analysts know that China and the US, and even Russia and Japan, are no longer locked in ideological competition but are fiercely at loggerheads in trade war which includes the control of those mineral resources in the South China Sea. Thus, it has become clear that the US is using the Philippines as port of call for its ships that routinely ply the area.
Our signing of an executive agreement means the US will respond to an attack of the Philippines not in accordance to the covenant of a treaty but in accordance to the judgment of the US president’s defined foreign policy. The option to defend this country then becomes an open-ended question. The US may decide to defend us if that will serve its interest, but not committed under any treaty obligation. There we can draw the line that the treaty is not really in defense of the country but in defense of its economic interest.
Neither can we say that the routine patrol of the US navy is pursuant to the exercise of freedom of navigation or in anticipation to possible attack from China. Rather, its role is to safeguard that portion in the SCS to prevent possible intrusion by any foreign power that may attempt to carry out exploration or exploit the mineral resources that lie underneath the Reed Bank.
It is our alliance that gives justification for the US to intervene in the event of dispute with China. On the other hand, should the Philippines decide to abrogate the bases agreement, the US will have no more leg to stand on. The presence of the bases is the thin line that allows them to hang on.
In fact, the signing of the Memorandum of Understanding between the Philippines and China last November 2018 has complicated the issue. The MOU has a collateral effect of displacing US interest in the South China Sea, particularly the interest of its oil companies. This explains why there has been a heightened tension between the Philippines and China and both are fully aware that this is instigated by the local opposition wanting to play the role of proxy to US interest.
Former Secretary of Foreign Affairs Albert del Rosario and Senior Justice Antonio Carpio know that the Reed Bank is within the country’s exclusive economize zone but is not part of our territorial waters. The exclusivity which Carpio is talking about has reference to the decision of the Permanent Arbitration Court in 2016 that has never been recognized by China, nor provided under our Constitution. President Duterte is right in saying that we cannot prevent the Chinese from fishing in the area. His statement is not based on the misplaced allegation that he is sympathetic to China but on what the Constitution provides. If truly the President violated the constitution, Carpio is free to test his case before the very court he sits.
To quote an important decision involving the disputed islands in the South China Sea, we need only to cite the Magallona vs. Ermita case: “…UNCLOS III is not a mode of acquiring or losing a territory as provided under the laws of nations. UNCLOS III is a multilateral treaty that is a result of a long standing negotiation to establish uniform sea-use rights over maritime zones.”
Finally, the agreement signed by the Philippines and China is pursuant to the 60-40 formula provided for in the Constitution. It would be odd for China’s state-owned corporation to enter into joint agreement with a private oil company that is largely own by aliens but operating in the Philippines. This now underscores why Del Rosario has become restless that his conduct is telling he has become desperate in trying to prevent the Locsin-Yi agreement from being implemented.
In fact, his conduct has given the media a chance to examine his connection with PXP Energy Corp. revealing that the latter holds service contract no. 72 located in the Reed Bank. To quote: “PXP Energy has a 67.19% controlling interest in Forum Energy Plc with 48.76% held directly and 18.43% held indirectly through FEC Resources, Inc., a 54.99%-owned subsidiary. Forum Energy is a UK incorporated upstream oil and gas company with focus on the Philippines. Its principal asset is a 70% interest in Service Contract 72 Reed Bank offshore west Palawan, which contains the Sampaguita gas discovery…”