Our rights are assured in oil exploration agreement

Published November 28, 2018, 12:00 AM

by Charissa Luci-Atienza & Bernie Cahiles-Magkilat

E CARTOON NOV 28, 2018Acting Chief Justice Antonio T. Carpio has long been vocal in his  opposition to the Duterte administration’s inaction on the 2016 ruling of the Permanent Court  of Arbitration (PCA) in  The Hague rejecting China’s claim to virtually all of  the South China Sea and upholding the Philippines’ right to reefs,  shoals, and banks  within the  Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) of the Philippines.

On  the recent oil exploration agreement between China and the Philippines, however, Justice Carpio came out last Sunday  in support of  the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) signed during the recent state visit of China President Xi Jinping.

 The MOU  calls for the setting up of a Joint Steering Committee  and Working Group to be led by  the two  countries’ ministries of foreign affairs and energy. The MOU provides: “This Memorandum of Understanding does not create rights or  obligations under international or domestic law.”

“I think we’re pretty safe,”  Chief Justice Carpio said. The MOU “has safeguards to protect  our sovereignty,” he said.

Carpio was a member of the Philippine Arbitration Team  that argued the Philippine position at the  Permanent Court Arbitration  which handed down its ruling in 2016  that rejected  China’s claim to sovereignty over most of the South China Sea and upheld the Philippine claim to Mischief Reef, Second Thomas shoal, and  Reed Bank as part of the Philippines 370-kilometer EEZ and continental shelf. This was in the last year of the Aq

uino administration.

When President Duterte began his administration, he declared that while the Philippines  stands by  the PCA  ruling, it would  opt, in the meantime,  for closer economic ties and cooperation with China in the face of that nation’s  insistence on its claim of sovereignty.

The Philippines in 2016 was ready to begin oil exploration in the Reed Bank, a wide area west of Palawan with promising signs of oil and gas reserves,  but  in the face of China’s unswerving stand, it suspended all exploration plans. Now, two years later,  with  the MOU signed during President Xi’s recent  state visit, exploration of the Reed Bank will finally proceed as a joint China-PH project.

And it will proceed without fears that we may yielding any legal or sovereign rights, because of the provisions  in the  MOU that our Department of Foreign Affairs, headed by its new Secretary Teodoro Locsin  Jr.,  ensured would be included in the MOU signed last week.

 We look forward  to  substantial economic benefits arising from the exploration agreement, and we welcome the assurance, voiced by  Chief Justice Carpio,  that it has safeguards to protect our nation’s sovereignty.