Former President Benigno Aquino III has been quoted as saying that he frowns on the idea of our entering into a possible joint exploration with China, in any manner or form, in the South China Sea/West Philippine Sea (SCS/WPS), disputed or otherwise.
He then proceeded to lambast President Duterte for even entertaining the idea of a 60-40 sharing arrangement even in undisputed areas controlled by the Philippines.
Said BSA III: “We are not obliged to enter into a sharing scheme for exploration with China...the country has the exclusive rights over the West Philippine Sea..and even if the administration sees this as a ‘practical solution” to the ongoing dispute over the area we should be wary of the Chinese...”
It is a pity that BSA III should be saying these things after his administration waylaid earlier efforts for the country to seriously engage in, one, knowing and eventually developing whatever resources are found in the SCS/WPS and, two, finally inking a Code of Conduct in the disputed area involving China and the 10-member Asean regional grouping. Like a hacendero who has outlived his usefulness but continues to believe otherwise, he is now trying to inject himself all over again into this very critical matter on the basis of false, misleading and ultimately wrong assumptions.
If BSA III does not realize that his statements have become an integral part of the crude effort to again waylay what could eventually be a lasting solution to the decades old impasse over conflicting claims in the area, then he does not deserve any kind of attention at all. Especially since it was issued in the midst of another round of China-bashing by the usual suspects over the SCS/WPS dispute and in the run-up to the meeting between the Chinese Foreign Minister and his counterparts in Asean. It is good that despite his vain attempt to put a cloud over the meeting, the participants were able to agree on a draft Code of Conduct which has been long in coming and eagerly awaited by the parties.
In any event, if BSA III really wants to inject himself in the SCS/WPS debate, it may be wise for him to consider the statements of a fellow traveller on the SCS/WPS dispute, Acting Chief Justice Antonio Carpio, who has transformed himself into the go-to guy’ within the dwindling ranks of the anti-China, anti-Duterte groups involved in this issue. For somebody who is presumably more knowledgeable, definitely wiser and more passionate about this issue, the Acting Chief Justice has been more circumspect and clear-minded than BSA III and his closest confidants.
Noted the Acting Chief Justice: on the matter of joint exploration in the contested areas, “Government should make sure that in the proposed joint exploration, the country’s sovereignty will not be compromised and the proposed 60-40 sharing arrangement complies with and is well within the Constitutional limits..” Carpio advised that he is ready to support the project “if the government would ensure that no sovereignty would be surrendered and the Chinese respect the constitutional limits.”
On that note we should now proceed with all deliberate speed to clear the air, so to speak, and come to terms with the concerns of China and our brothers in Asean.
On our part the proper, responsible and sustainable development of the resources in the contested areas should animate our processes. After all, the benefits from this positive development cannot be sneezed at. No less than the United States Geological Survey has crowed over the potential oil and gas reserves not to mention the aquatic and related resources in the area.
Based on the latest USGS research, the South China Sea region holds reserves of some 11 billion barrels of oil and 190 trillion cubic feet of natural gas. China’s National Offshore Oil Company—the state-owned energy company responsible for offshore energy exploitation—provides an even much rosier estimate, predicting the region holds some 125 billion barrels of oil and 500 trillion cubic feet of natural gas.
These are not insignificant figures in a region which is considered “..woefully dependent on imported oil and gas...” Recent studies show that China is the second-largest consumer of oil after the United States and continues to be critically dependent on imports to feed its energy demands. On the other hand, Japan, South Korea, India and six of the 10-member Asean are likewise net oil and gas importers.
Any serious effort to develop such huge reserves in areas close to home, as it were, should be welcome news indeed. The other benefits of a stable and peaceful SCS/WPS environment governed by a rule-based Code of Conduct are equally considerable and should be earnestly pursued with all deliberate speed.
We are talking here of the marine and aquatic resources known to be abundant in these waters. Even the minerals, metallic and non-metallic, which some geologists and marine scientists claim would also be considerable would be a boon to the economic and social well-being of the peoples in the countries ringing the area. And we are not yet talking here of the boost to international trade which a calm and collected SCS/WPS area brings.
Noted a recent independent study by a Singapore-based think tank: “The territorial disputes over the South China Sea are about much more than energy, marine and other resources buried in the seabed.
More than $5 trillion in global trade passes through the strategic waterway annually, including the vast majority of the imported oil on which Japan, China and South Korea rely. These countries together with the United States and, of course, the Asean see control of the waterway as a key security concern— not just in terms of national defense but also in terms of energy and economic security.”
Need we say more about the damage which BSA III’s wrong view of things can result in if we simply allow it to be unquestioned? Huwag naman.