Inquirer columnist Winnie Monsod in her piece “Will Duterte stand by PH, as P-Noy did?” gives us some inside insight into what may have gone one behind the scenes in the administration of the late former President Noynoy Aquino with regard to the South China Sea dispute. She relates how one faction within the administration led by then Executive Secretary Paquito Ochoa Jr. was “playing dirty” by blocking close engagement between PNoy and the arbitration team led by then Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario and then Supreme Court Justice Antonio Carpio. Monsod lists this, for example, among the “dirty tricks” Ochoa allegedly played in Malacanang…
Preventing a meeting between P-Noy and the lawyers of the Philippines in the arbitration case (making them wait four hours), and then giving them a presidential instruction which the President did not give. The President was not told that the lawyers were there (according to P-Noy himself), so how could he have given an instruction? Again, this shows disrespect, nay, contempt for the President’s ability to make a decision…
Jojo Ochoa is by no means a pushover of a lawyer. You don’t get to be City Administrator of Quezon City under Feliciano Belmonte if you’re a pushover. What Mareng Winnie doesn’t mention is the reason why the issue of Itu Aba was excluded by Ochoa. If you read the arbitral panel decision, there was the possibility of the Kalayaan Island Group (KIG) being lost. Why? Former President Ferdinand Marcos only claimed the KIG after Tomas Cloma “discovered” it. In fact, the South China Sea islands have been in possession of either China, the French and the Japanese at various points in history. Itu Aba is part of Taiwan at present. Taiwan is a part of China. It follows that the Chinese are allowed their own EEZ in and around Itu Aba which would overlap with the KIG. Any question of sovereignty or jurisdiction could’ve worked against the Philippines, specially under United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).
The US just used the Philippines as a stalking horse in order to go around any prohibition whenever it conducts freedom of navigation operations (FONOPS) in the disputed waters. The Opposition fails to explain clearly to the interested public, the vagaries of the South China Sea dispute. As Ankit Panda wrote in his piece “5 Takeaways: A Closer Look at the Historic South China Sea Arbitration Award” published on The Diplomat, “The one open door–somewhat poetically–is Scarborough Shoal, the disputed feature that led Manila to the court in the first place. (After the award, Scarborough is a disputed feature, albeit within the Philippines’ EEZ.) The Tribunal’s award leaves some space for the two sides to come to an agreement on joint resource exploitation.”
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The Philippines used to have possession of Scarborough Shoal until it was lost under the Aquino administration. This cannot be denied yet the Opposition doesn’t admit it to the public. The ruling allows for joint exploitation of resources between the two countries. The same is true with Reed or Recto Bank which is part of the Second Thomas or Ayungin Shoal, where a Philippine Navy ship has been grounded to assert the sovereign claim. Jeremy Maxie writing for The Diplomat points out, “This could prove a compelling proposition for Manila since Reed Bank (Recto Bank), located approximately 80 nautical miles northwest of Palawan within the Philippine Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) but claimed by China, is thought to hold one of the highest concentration of undiscovered resources within the SCS—764 million to 2.2 billion barrels of oil and 7.6 Tcf to 22 Tcf of natural gas.”
Apparently the play on the arbitration case, as it was being pushed for by Del Rosario, was for the Philippines to be able to push through oil and gas exploration without honoring the 2004 memorandum between the Philippine National Oil Company (PNOC) and China’s China National Offshore Oil Corporation (CNOOC) issued under the administration of former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo (GMA). The companies which have a stake in the service contract for exploration awarded by the Department of Energy include the groups of Manny Pangilinan, Ricky Razon and Bobby Ongpin. Shell’s 30% stake in Malampaya has been sold to Dennis Uy’s Udenna Group. As the gas reserves run out, what is of value is the infrastructure which is the pipeline that runs from the platform to Batangas where the LNG power generating plants are located.
It is obvious which group Carpio is lawyering for. But does Mareng Winnie make a valid claim that it was Ochoa’s Palace faction who were traitors? What of PNoy’s being clueless about the presence of Paul Reichler and Albert Del Rosario for a meeting? Why didn’t PNoy follow up with Ochoa personally? There is more than meets the eye in the perorations of Carpio. The question of then Senator Antonio Trillanes’s backchannel negotiations with the Chinese has never been answered as well.
The country’s energy security is imperiled again because of the fight for control of the energy supply. It is only Duterte who has been able to make the oligarchs toe the line which is why there is the effort to ensure that come 2022, neither a Duterte nor a Marcos should be President.
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