The highly-touted memorandum of understanding (MoU) signed between the Philippines and China over possible cooperation on oil and gas exploration is not intended for the West Philippine Sea (WPS), Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. said.
Locsin maintained that the deal does not cover any specific area.
He explained that when he crafted the MoU, he never thought of any particular place for a possible joint exploration.
“Where they (PH-China working groups) intend to explore, where those areas are, again nobody knows. When this was drafted, no area was in contemplation,” Locsin said during a broadcast interview.
He added that the MoU put primacy to mutual respect and benefit to both parties in compliance with international law.
Framework for talks
The MoU, signed by the Philippines and China during the two-day state visit of China President Xi Jinping, was aimed at creating the framework for future talks on joint oil and gas exploration.
It stipulates adherence to international law and that it will be without prejudice to both governments’ legal positions.
The deal should be in accordance with the principles of mutual respect, fairness and mutual benefit, flexibility and pragmatism and consensus, through equal and friendly consultation.
The two governments have decided to negotiate on an accelerated basis arrangement to facilitate oil and gas exploration and exploitation in relevant maritime areas consistent with applicable rules of international law.
“When I draw an agreement like this, I do it under the rules of laws. You put a veil of ignorance, you don’t know who the parties are to make it fair,” Locsin said.
“So what particular contracts will be affected by this? I don’t know and I don’t want to know,” he pointed out.
At the same time, the Foreign Affairs chief reiterated that the “Chinese draft” presented to the public by Sen. Antonio Trillanes IV does not deserve any response from him.
“How can I respond to non-sense? It’s not even a draft. It may have been written by Trillanes’ staff… I am dealing with a foreign power. He’s dealing with his staff member,” he said.
Earlier, Locsin dismissed Trillanes’ document while confirming there was indeed an initial draft from the Chinese side, but it was not the copy presented by the opposition senator.
Critics of the Duterte administration scored the signing of the MoU even before the contents were made public, insinuating the government is falling into a China trap. Some lawmakers even called for an inquiry into the agreements.
It said Chinese
“It was waived to me… I’ve never seen anything like that. It’s like 16-point large, this big, three spaces between and there were pointers… and said, ‘Chinese…’ I just put it aside because I was trained at the Angara Law Office to look at memoranda of agreements in a certain way,” Locsin said, adding that he has no idea where Trillanes obtained the document.
Trillanes released the supposed draft of an alleged framework agreement on joint maritime oil and gas exploration between China and the Philippines, noting that it came from an informant.
Acting Chief Justice Antonio Carpio, who has been a tough critic of Chinese actions in the WPS, said the MoU was safe as long as the government will be vigilant in supervising the operations.
“MoU is just an agreement to strike a cooperation deal with China on oil and gas activities in areas that we agreed upon,” Carpio clarified.
He explained that in the MoU, there was a clause that provides China can cooperate in the exploration. They could only act as subcontractors who will help in the operations, but the Philippine government will be the one supervising it.
“The practical solution is for China to get the income by working… and get the gas for us, use their machinery, the people, and spend for it. And if China will now agree, then we found the formula in settling the maritime issue in the entire South China Sea. We can even give 60 percent of the income, as long as we have the sovereign rights,” Carpio said. “So, I said it’s safe as long as we follow that trajectory. We will allow them to come in as service contractors. They work for us and that’s the solution.”
With Mario J. Mallari and Elmer N. Manuel