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Leni seeks transparency in China-PH deal with Xi

By Llanesca T. Panti

MANILA --- Vice President Leni Robredo yesterday called on the Duterte administration to be “transparent” regarding the bilateral agreements it signed with China during the first day of Chinese President Xi Jinping’s two-day state visit to the country.

“We call on the administration to be transparent with all the bilateral agreements signed yesterday with the People’s Republic of China,” Robredo said in a statement.

“The Filipino people should be informed how deals — such as the Memorandum of Understanding on the Belt and Road Initiative, the Infrastructure Cooperation Program, and, most notably, the Memorandum of Understanding on Cooperation on Oil and Gas Development — will benefit our country and serve our national interest.”

The Philippines and China on Tuesday inked a memorandum of understanding (MOU) on cooperation on oil and gas development amid speculation that a draft framework agreement

on the proposed joint exploration deal in the disputed South China Sea had been prepared by Beijing.

Malacañang has yet to release the details of the MOU, but according to the supposed draft of the deal that was disclosed by opposition Senator Antonio Trillanes IV, any document, information, or data concerning the joint exploration between the two parties shall be kept confidential, unless the two parties decide otherwise.

Robredo said aside from being transparent, the administration should also “stand firm and exert all diplomatic means to assert our sovereignty over the West Philippine Sea, consistent with the our historic victory before the arbitral tribunal more than two years ago.”

She was referring to the July 2016 United Nations Permanent Court of Arbitration ruling that rejected China’s massive claim over the entire South China Sea, and declared the Spratly Islands, as well as the Panganiban (Mischief) Reef, Ayungin (Second Thomas) Shoal and Recto (Reed) Bank, are all within the Philippines’ Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ).

“Our sovereignty must not be compromised in any agreement we enter into with any country,” Robredo, a lawyer, said.

Robredo added that friendship with China, though welcome, “should not come at the expense of the interests of our people and our nation.”

“Our interests should always come first when we deepen relations with other nations, especially at a time when majority of our people continue to contend with daily challenges brought about by elevated prices and lack of livelihood opportunities,” she said.

Renato Reyes, secretary general of Bagong Alyansang Makabayan, shared Robredo’s concern on the nature of the agreements, particularly the oil and gas development deal involving the West Philippines Sea.

“It is important to determine if such agreements go against the Philippine Constitution and undermine our legal victory before the arbitral court,” he said in a separate statement.

“While an unofficial draft of the MOU on joint exploration and development claims that it will have no effect on the respective sovereignty claims of both parties, there is valid concern that such an arrangement may be more advantageous to China.”

“For some, it (oil and gas deal) may mean that our legal victory is being set aside in favor of joint exploration. There is also great concern that China, and not the Philippines, drafted the framework agreement,” Reyes added.

The 1987 Constitution provides that the exploration, development, and utilization of natural resources should be under the full control and supervision of the Philippine government. The 1987 Charter allows the Philippine government to enter into a co-production, joint venture, or production-sharing agreements, but only with private companies 60 percent owned by Filipino citizens.

The Philippines calls its exclusive economic zone in the South China Sea as West Philippines Sea.

In 2005, the Arroyo administration inked a Joint Marine Seismic Undertaking (JMSU) deal with China and Vietnam which covered islands located 142,886 square kilometers west of Palawan—all of which are located within the Philippines’ EEZ based on United Nations Convention on the Law of the Seas.

The JMSU lapsed in 2008 and was not renewed after critics of the Arroyo administration questioned its legality before the Supreme Court, which has yet to rule on it. — KBK, GMA News

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