High court ruling on West PH Sea exploration, a warning to Marcos Jr. not to enter lopsided deals

Chinese maritime militia vessels swarm around Julian Felipe reef in the West Philippine Sea on March 27, 2021 (Photo from the Presidential Communications Facebook)


MANILA – A Filipino fisherfolk group lauded the recent decision of the Supreme Court that ruled the 2005 Joint Marine Seismic Undertaking (JMSU) as unconstitutional, saying that it provides more reason for the Marcos Jr. administration not to forge a joint gas and oil exploration with China at the expense of the country’s sovereignty.

“We are elated with the Supreme Court decision on the JMSU. It shows that there is no legal basis to enter any agreement that would allow a foreign country from exploring, using, and most of all abusing our natural resources,” said Fernando Hicap of Pamalakaya in a statement.

On Monday, the Supreme Court said that the en banc has decided on the JMSU with votes of 12-2-1, referring to an oil exploration contract between the Vietnam Oil Gas Corp., China National Offshore Oil Corp., and the Philippine National Oil Company that encompassed 142,886 square kilometers in the West Philippine Sea.

Associate Justice Samuel Gaerlan penned the said decision.

Hicap said the decision strengthens their long-time calls that seek to stop any moves towards a joint oil and gas exploration between the Philippines and China on the West Philippine Sea.

“The Marcos Jr. should heed and recognize this decision in actively asserting our sovereignty against Chinese acts of aggression (in the disputed waters),” Hicap said.

Foreign ‘explorations’ on PH waters

Signed in 2005, the deal was challenged before the Supreme Court, saying that it violated the Philippine Constitution as it states that the State shall have complete control and supervision over the exploration, development, and utilization of natural resources.

The Makabayan bloc then filed a petition seeking to nullify the deal, saying that it unlawfully allowed foreign entities to participate in the possible discovery of natural resources in the Philippine seas.

The JMSU was also criticized for being “shrouded in secrecy” and for the China National Offshore Oil Corporation (CNOOC) being the major partner in the arrangement, in charge of the seismic investigation of oil resources in regions where China’s claims overlapped.

When questioned at the time, Gloria Macapagal Arroyo’s administration said denied that the deal included “the exploration, development, and exploitation” of petroleum resources as defined by the Constitution, but rather pre-exploration operations.

She told the media earlier this week that she respects the decision of the High Court.

“Although it took 14 years for the Court to resolve the case, the ruling is as relevant as ever considering [President Ferdinand Marcos Jr.]’s plan to enter into a joint exploration of the West Philippine Sea (WPS) to China,” former Bayan Muna Rep. Teddy Casiño said on Twitter.

Ferdinand Marcos Jr. said he had “cordial and fruitful engagements” and “growing maturity” during his state visit to China earlier this month, including a purported comprehensive discussion on the two countries’ maritime relations in the disputed waters.

“May this be a warning to Mr. Marcos not to trifle with the constitutional provisions that reserve the exploitation of our natural resources exclusively to Filipinos and under the full supervision and control of the Philippine government,” he added.

More protection for WPS

For environmental group Kalikasan People’s Network for the Environment, the Supreme Court decision paves the need to protect the West Philippine Sea.

“For the environmentalists and people’s groups in our network, this decision spells stronger protection of the resources of the West Philippine Sea and their preservation for the next generation,” said Jon Bonifacio, Kalikasan’s national coordinator.

This, he added, is also a “big and concrete step toward addressing the climate crisis, as it will serve as a deterrent to any plans of Marcos Jr. to explore fossil fuels in those waters.”

Human rights lawyer and former Bayan Muna Rep. Neri Colmenares said if China would insist on its claim over the West Philippine Sea, the next proposed explorations may be deemed unconstitutional as well. “China has to accede to our Constitution if it wants to have joint exploration in our territory or territorial claim.” (JJE, RVO)

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