Opposition horse-trading shaped by energy oligarchs vying for control over oil and gas in West Philippine Sea

So now journalists have to get their stories from Facebook posts. In her Inquirer report “Control of West PH Sea oil seen in takeover of Malampaya project”, Frances Mangosing uses a statement from a certain “security expert” named Jay Batongbacal as reference to highlight how a takeover of the Malampaya gas project by Dennis Uy’s Udenna Corporation could “seriously influence and control any further offshore petroleum development in the West Philippine Sea” and, therefore, “was a development that needed closer scrutiny.” According to Mangosing, these are statements Batongbacal “said on Facebook” although no links to any such Facebook posts were provided in her “report”. How things have changed in Philippine “journalism” — new lows are being plumbed in editorial standards.

Nonetheless, Mangosing continues her “report” pointing out that, in considering that the Malampaya field is a “dying gas deposit” and that further investment there would not make sense in the long run, the “expense of extraction will outweigh the profit of selling and using the resource”. The point of the report, it seems, is to raise suspicion over Uy’s acquisition of this “depleting reserve”. Mangosing writes (quoting her Facebook source) that “Uy could suddenly gain advantage through the existing 501-kilometer underwater pipeline that carries natural gas from the Camago-Malampaya Reserve through Linapacan around Mindoro to Batangas, from where it is piped into three natural gas power plants.”

“The pipeline can make or break the commercial viability of any large petroleum reserves in those areas, especially SC 57, 58, 72, and 75 which are currently active contracts,” [Batongbacal] said.

“Interconnection with the Malampaya pipeline would make petroleum exploration and development of the Northwest Palawan shelf and Reed Bank commercially and technically viable, not to mention very profitable, for any potential petroleum investors in the West Philippine Sea,” he added.

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Thus the title of Herminio Disini’s book, The Politics of Business. The two are inevitably intertwined in most countries. It’s only a question of the level. History tells us that even in the early days of the Philippine Republic, it was the Ilustrados who mounted the revolution. Andres Bonifacio himself was middle-class. Before the rise of Ferdinand Marcos, there already was Manila’s 400 — a list of Manila’s who’s who compiled by Filipino linguist, writer, and poet Trinidad Tarrosa-Subido…

The list of Manila’s old families was based on wealth, education, influence, prominence, achievement, breeding and “good taste.” Ms Subido mentioned in her column that if she had failed to include names that should be included, anyone should feel free to drop her a note.

She further explained that there were many prominent families in other parts of the Philippines, but they never moved to Manila proper, and thus, did not become part of Manila’s 400.

Pictures depict the beauty and grandeur of Manila which justifies how very apt that it was described as the Pearl of the Orient. It was a melting pot of Americans, Europeans and Asians who were traders. It had a sizable expatriate community. The post-Marcos period saw the rise of the Filipino-Chinese “Chinoy” taipans. The (in-full- and partly-) ethnic Spanish mestizos were displaced by the economic evolution. It’s the Chinese adage that’s applicable; first generation coolie becomes rich, second generation is spendthrift, third generation coolie again. Well not all of them. Most of them are either in Madre España, North America and Australia.

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It was Marcos who first explored for oil in Palawan at the behest of then Energy Minister Geronimo Velasco. The Nido oil field wasn’t large enough to supply the country’s requirements but it proved that the resources were there. Since then, the exploration activities hasn’t moved forward until Malampaya came along. Energy security is essential to long-term economic growth. Marcos envisioned the country having nine nuclear power plants by 1989. The economic crisis of the 70s to the 80s were all triggered by oil price shocks brought about by conflict in the Middle East. The US itself had been remiss in energy security. By 1969, it had run through its domestic reserves. This led to its withdrawal from the gold standard. The world’s largest economy experienced economic stagflation. And when the US sneezes, the rest of the world catches a cold.

Much of the economic problems of the Philippines were brought about the global economy being in the rut during those times. It didn’t help that the US began its hatchet job on Marcos after he refused to extend the Bell Trade Act which granted Americans parity rights when it expired in 1974. The Great Ilokano follows this up with the imposition of rent on the US military bases in the Philippines. Marcos incurred the ire of the Great White Father which put him squarely in their sights. We are well-aware of what happened post-Marcos.

It was only President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo (GMA) who had the audacity to implement economic reforms which had long-term impacts. This set the stage for economic growth but resulted in a hybrid economy; consumption-driven but not high income. The financial crisis of 2008 brought interest rates to their lowest in history. This fueled consumption as overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) were sending back monies which became the engine of growth.

Each administration sees the rise of businessmen who break into the old circle of cronies. Contrary to the Yellowidiots’ claim, they never got rid of “cronyism”. As Disini stated in his book, the old Marcos cronies had the foresight to switch sides before the fall came. Jaime Zobel De Ayala is the former Philippine Ambassador to the Court of St. James, technically the UK. When it was convenient, he switched his support to then president Cory Aquino. Remember how Makati was the center of protest rallies against Marcos? The yellow confetti made from the telephone directory’s yellow pages made for good optics.

The victory of President Rodrigo Duterte in 2016 gave rise to Dennis Uy, the Chinoy taipan who made his fortune in Diwalwal. Uy has been gobbling up companies left and right in moves which appear to be bereft of strategic impact. His acquisition of the Shell stake in Malampaya is ominous because it sets the tone for the 2022 election given the oligarchs who form the consortium holding the service contract for oil and gas exploration in the Recto Bank. The timing of the acquisition is a key element in the unfolding power play. Batangas is now the energy capital of the country due to the number of LNG terminals being built. Even the normally staid Batangas Governor Dodo Mandanas is in on the action given his wife, Regina Ongsiako Reyes is flush with cash after the division of the Ongsiako estate among its branches.

If we go by the oligarchs involved in the energy sector and their political affiliations, it’s safe to say that the Lopez and Manny Pangilinan’s MVP groups will be fielding a candidate for 2022. But whoever they run gets trumped by a Daughterte-Duterte tandem, which was hinted at the other day by no less than the President himself. Secretary Sonny Dominguez’s tax reform package is about to pass Congress. The economic cha-cha made simple by the phrase “unless otherwise provided for by law” is only encountering resistance from the Senators. This is understandable because it’s an election year and they don’t want to upset their patrons as they have a need for campaign funds. The operative word is continuity. Why would one stop short of what has been achieved in six years when the work isn’t done yet?

Mark your calendars folks. June 12 is when the opposition lays their cards on the table. If they don’t present an alternative platform of government at this time, their chances of victory in 2022 become dimmer.

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