By INA ALLECO R. SILVERIO
And now Australia’s having it’s say on the brewing conflict over the Spratlys, and a fisherfolk group insists that’s it for purely business.
The Pambansang Lakas ng Kilusang Mamamalakaya ng Pilipinas (Pamalakaya) on Monday said Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd’s expression of support to the Philippine government over its current row with Beijing is not out of concern for the Philippines’ sovereignty or to further fraternal relations.
Australia, Pamalakaya said, wants its fingers in the pie and to get a share of the the reported 3.3 million cubic meters oil deposits in the small group of islands in the South China Sea.
“Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd and his backers, primarily Canberra’s oil and gas exploration giants are just after Spratlys’ oil deposits. This is the real reason for its attempts to ingratiate itself with both the governments of the United States and the Philippines that are reportedly putting together a game plan,” said Pamalakaya vice chairperson Salvador France.
Australia issued its position through a joint statement signed by Rudd and Trade Minister Craig Emerson. The two met with with Philippine Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario and Trade Secretary Gregory Domingo at the 3rd Philippines-Australia Ministerial Meeting in Canberra last week.
“The Ministers and Secretaries agreed on the value of rules-based cooperative approaches, based on respect for international law, particularly the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS),” the joint statement read. “The Ministers and Secretaries agreed on the importance of sustaining bilateral dialogue on strategic and regional issues of mutual interest, and agreed to establish a strategic dialogue at senior officials’ level to take this forward.”
Pamalakaya’s France said that the the Australian government is already guilty of undermining Philippine sovereignty by invoking President Benigno Aquino III’s narrow view of sovereignty against China and other claimants in Spratlys. Australia’s involvement in this issue is motivated by greed,” he said.
It has been revealed that eight of the 15 offshore mining contracts which the Aquino government will open for bidding are found in Northwest and East Palawan which are very near to the disputed Spratlys group of islands.
“Already there are 40 prominent Australian oil and gas exploration companies trying to horn in on the oil reserves. They include, among others the top industry corporations Anglican Resources Plc., Shell, Apache, Chevron, AWT International, Black Swan, CalEnergy, Cue Energy Resources, ENI Australia, Exxon, Neon Energy, Otto Energy, Woodside and Tap Oil. They have all expressed keen interest to conduct oil and gas explorations in Philippine ocean waters and other areas the Philippines is claiming,” France said.
Ban offshore exploratory activities
Earlier, Pamalakaya wrote a letter of appeal to Australian Senate President John Hogg for the latter to intervene and convince Australian oil and gas exploration firms to cease from conducting offshore mining activities in Philippine waters due to oil and gas hunt’s negative impact on the environment and fishing livelihood.
Offshore mining refers to oil extraction from platforms situated a short distance from the coast. Each offshore oil platform generates approximately 214,000 pounds of air pollutants each year. An average exploration well for natural gas could generate 50 tons of nitrogen oxides, 13 tons of carbon monoxide, six tons of sulfur dioxide and five tons of volatile organic hydrocarbons.
Recent findings also revealed that oil and gas exploration activities could lead to massive production of other toxic waste materials such as cadmium which causes lung cancer; lead which causes gastrointestinal diseases, blood and kidney disorders and mental retardation that affects the nervous system; chromium which causes lung and liver cancers, kidney and other respiratory illness.
In their letter dated May 28, Pamalakaya national chair Fernando Hicap said that they decided to write Hogg to appeal to the Australian government to reconsider its intentions on offshore oil and gas searches. He went to say in the letter that the said activities are “highly inimical to the collective interest of the 99 million Filipinos and pose extreme danger to small fisherfolk livelihood and marine environment.”
To justify their opposition, Pamalakaya cited the case of Tanon Strait offshore mining in 2005. The group said that sometime in 2005, the Japanese oil and gas exploration firm Japan Petroleum Exploration Corporation (Japex) Inc. was allowed to conduct offshore mining in Tanon Strait, a protected seascape separating the island provinces of Negros and Cebu.
The result, it said, was “general disaster.”
“We witnessed the occurrence of fish kills in the area. Fish catch was grossly reduced by 90 percent from a high average of 15 kilos a day to three kilos per fishing trip. Many people, mostly women and children and the elderly, became afflicted with skin and lung-related diseases as a direct effect of the unregulated offshore mining activities,” said Hicap.
Hicap also cited the potential environmental damage of oil and gas explorations to living corrals in Philippine ocean waters. The impact of seismic surveys and oil drilling to ocean living things like corrals, Hicap said, is damaging and life threatening not only corrals but to other biodiversity.
In the meantime, Pamalakaya’s opposition to offshore mining is supported by 35 international fisherfolk alliances fromCanada, Honduras, Spain, Guadalupe, Mauritania, South Africa, India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka,Thailand, Indonesia, Malaysia and Senegal, all members of the World Forum of Fisher People (WFFP). Another group—the Asian Peasant Coalition (APC) in January this year also endorsed the ban of large-scale offshore mining in the Philippines.
In 2008, the group staged protests against NorAsia Energy Ltd., an Australian oil and gas exploration firm that was then conducting the first phase of oil hunting in the Cebu-Bohol Strait. It was reported that the entire offshore mining activity covered 444,000 hectares of marine waters over a seven-year period based on the agreement signed by NorAsia and its Filipino partner, the TransAsia Oil and Energy Development Corporation. The agreement was sanctioned by the Department of Energy.
According to reports, NorAsia in 2007 did tests in two prospective oil-drilling sites. It was revealed that one site had an active petroleum system shown by the abundant onshore oil seepage, and seismic activity supported direct hydrocarbon prospects in the area.