RP knew Spratlys exploration ‘too close’ to Palawan

Posted at 03/08/08 6:10 PM

But revised map shows survey by China and Vietnam is still within Philippine waters


Energy officials were aware as early as 2004 that the bilateral agreement they signed with China to explore the Spratlys for oil deposits covered an area that was within Philippine waters and should not have been allowed.

The tacit admission was made when they decided half a year later to revise the map annexed to the joint marine seismic undertaking (JMSU) pact, according to interviews with government officials privy to the agreement.

This became clear at the closed door meeting in Malacañang on Friday, when the Department of Justice and lawyers were presented a map from the Department of Energy that showed how clearly the area covered by the Philippines’ joint seismic survey with China and Vietnam is within the Philippines’ 200-nautical-mile exclusive economic zone (EEZ).


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abs-cbnNews.com/Newsbreak was shown the map presented to select members of the Cabinet led by Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita.

The map, a revision of the one annexed to the pact with China, showed that the survey area still encroaches on the Philippines waters, and therefore violated local and international laws.

Perez, Mañalac Liable?

The new map served as the annex to the tripartite JMSU pact that was signed on March 14, 2005, and now included Vietnam.

The agreements were signed during the time of Energy Secretary Vince Perez, through the Philippine National Oil Company under president Eduardo Mañalac.

The original map, which was annexed to the bilateral pact between the Philippines and China signed half a year earlier, showed a survey area closer to Philippine territory. It was revised after a Cabinet official pointed out in 2004 that the original location targeted by the JMSU with China was "too close" to Palawan.

The revised map moved the 142,886-square-kilometer seismic survey area farther from Palawan toward the southwest.

Within Exclusive Zone

The new map shows that the new location is now slightly below the Malampaya exploration site, based on another map published earlier by the Philippine National Oil Corporation (PNOC), which signed the JMSU pact on behalf of the DOE. The map that PNOC made public in 2005 did not show the lines of the Philippines’ EEZ.

Still, the new survey area encroaches on Philippine waters.

With a line showing where 200 nautical miles from the Philippine territorial lines end on the new map, it was established that, still, around 80 percent of the 142,886-square kilometer area of the joint marine seismic undertaking (JMSU) is within Philippine waters.

The 200-nautical-mile EEZ was delineated by the Philippines under Presidential Decree 1599 of President Ferdinand Marcos and is acknowledged by the international community under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).

Weakened Claim

Legal and science experts we consulted said that it doesn’t matter if the survey area was moved a little farther from the original location; it still violated both local and international laws.

It was reported that Justice Secretary Raul Gonzalez, in a memo to President Arroyo, said that the "seismic work or pre-exploration activities," which the tripartite agreement allowed, "is not prohibited in the Constitution."

He also pointed out the agreement "does not delve into sovereignty issues."

The issue is not as simple as that, according to international law and diplomatic experts we consulted.

Worse, agreeing to the area covered by the JMSU, the Philippines derogated its sovereign rights over the area. They said that allowing China and Vietnam to operate within this EEZ effectively acknowledged that the area, already belonging to the Philippines, is disputed.

"The bottom line is, we have weakened our case [before the international court] because we are saying that the area is not exclusively ours," said a legal expert formerly with the Cabinet.

The Philippines is a claimant to a group of islands in the Spratlys. Its EEZ shows it as the country nearest the disputed area.

(First posted 5:10 pm)