By INA ALLECO R. SILVERIO
The progressive party-list Bayan Muna wants the Supreme Court to declare the Philippines’ involvement in the Joint Maritime Seismic Undertaking (JMSU) project and other joint ventures on Philippines waters with China as unconstitutional.
Three weeks ago, Chinese fishermen were discovered poaching in the Scarborough Shoal or the Bajo de Masinloc area. This has started a tension build-up between the Philippines and China, recently resulting in a stand off. Already, Chinese newspapers have expressed warning of a potential “small scale war” between China and the Philippines as a result of the stand off and the ongoing war drills under the Balikatan exercises between the military troops of the United States and the Philippines. It said the US-RP joint military exercises raise the risk of armed confrontation over contested areas in the West Philippine Sea.
Bayan Muna Rep. Neri Colmenares said China’s increasing incursions in Philippine territory particularly in the Spratly Islands, Recto Reed and Panatag (Scarborough) shoal were because of the JMSU. He said China’s aggressive interest in Scarborough Shoal was essentially “legalized” because of the JMSU between it, the Philippines and Vietnam. The JMSU was implemented in 2002 a mutual” project to search for natural fuel resources, and through it, China and Vietnam learned of the enormous reserves of natural gas in the Spratlys.
“Through the JMSU,China as well as Vietnam, learned of the enormous reserves of natural gas in Recto Reed for example, one field amounting to about 2.7-3.4 trillion cubic feet, and are now hell bent on acquiring it either by hook or by crook as can be seen with China’s deployment of gun boats and patrol boats,” he said. “The gun boat diplomacy being used now by China is meant to secure these areas clearly under Philippine territory. It is also meant to solve the energy crisis that the superpower is trying to stave off. But imagine what natural gas can do to help us on our own power crisis.”
“Again we are reiterating our demand for the Chinese to stop their aggressive actions and for the House to immediately set an inquiry on the full context of the Chinese incursions. China’s aggressive act is a way of pushing for a Joint Venture Agreement (JVA) in the area, which will be unequally in favor of China and detrimental to the Filipino people. The Supreme Court should now resolve the Bayan Muna petition on the JMSU and declare joint ventures with China on Spratly’s and Panatag (Scarborough) shoal unconstitutional” he stressed.
Colmenares likewise raised his objection to proposals to revive the JMSU between the Philippines and Vietnam, as well as similar agreements. In 2008 Bayan Muna initiated a petition for certiorari against the said agreement, which up till now is pending before the SC.
“The problem with the JMSU is that the area being explored is within our territorial waters and not in the disputed areas. We’re at the losing end if this is revived,” he pointed out.
No to US interference in Scarborough Shoal conflict
In the meantime, the progressive lawmakers reiterated their call for a diplomatic resolution to the rising conflict with China over Scarborough Shoal. While the Philippines raised diplomatic protests and has announced to bring the issue to the International Tribunal on the Law of the Sea (ITLOS), President Benigno S. Aquino III’s tact to call on the United States to interfere in the regional dispute and come to aid the Philippines against China will not serve to ease tensions.
Malacañang based its appeal to the US by citing the 1951 Mutual Defense Treaty.
At the height of the tension over the Scarborough dispute, the US-RP Balikatan exercises started off with almost 7,000 American and Filipino troops gathering in Palawan to conduct war games near the disputed area, contributing to the rising tension between China and the Philippines, despite the incredible official denial that it is not related to the Scarborough dispute.
“The Philippines should assert its sovereignty over the disputed area as the said area, which is a ring of coral reef in Philippine territories. The country’s claim is not only based on the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) but also because the Philippines exercises full sovereignty and jurisdiction over Bajo de Masinloc, also known as Panakot and Panatag, and sovereign rights over the waters encircling the said area,” said Casiño.
The Department of Foreign Affairs released its official statement on April 20, 2012 reiterating the territorial right of the Philippines over the Scarborough Shoal based on other public international law, aside from the UNCLOS. According to the DFA, the Philippines has been exercising full sovereignty and jurisdiction since the 16th century and has records to prove that the Bajo de Masinloc is a Philippine territory;
“China and the Philippines have been in a longstanding bilateral relation and can therefore enter into bilateral and even multilateral negotiations with other countries involved in the dispute to come up with more diplomatic means to resolve the conflict. The Aquino administration, for calling upon the US intervention and allowing US military presence in the Philippines at the height of the said dispute, undermines the Filipino nation’s sovereignty and independence and even brings the country to the brink of war,” said Casiño.
Casiño said that in consideration of the rising tension against China, the Philippine government should recall the continuing joint military exercises and order the pull-out of US troops in the Philippines.
“US military presence in the Philippines only aggravates the situation where the Filipino nation is mostly at stake. Their pull out should help ease the tension and can pave the way for a more diplomatic action,” he said.
According to political observers, the US vows to maintain its global military superiority and political leadership in Asia-Pacific to go against the the rising economic and military power of China. On the other hand, the US is also meeting failure after failure in its occupation wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and suffers waning geopolitical clout in the Middle East.
Based on reports, low-level defense talks between the US and the Philippines have been taking place since January this year. The goal of the talks is assumed to be the forging of a new agreement that will expand US role and military presence in the country. Higher-level talks, involving the two nations’ foreign affairs and defense secretaries, are set to be held May 2012 to firm up an agreement. The agreement is supposed to be signed by US President Barack Obama and Aquino when the latter visits Washington DC later this year.