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2 senators seek probe of PH-China deals

/ 07:24 AM November 20, 2018

Opposition senators Francis Pangilinan and Antonio Trillanes IV on Monday sought a congressional inquiry into any potential deal between the Philippines and China involving natural resources, including oil and gas explorations, as Malacañang prepares to welcome Chinese President Xi Jinping.

Xi arrives in Manila on Tuesday for a two-day state visit, his first under the Duterte administration.

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President Duterte and members of his Cabinet will lead a welcome ceremony for Xi on the Kalayaan Grounds at Malacañang.

Signing of agreements

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After a bilateral meeting, Xi and the President will oversee the signing or exchange of agreements between China and the Philippines, the Palace said.

Pangilinan and Trillanes filed a resolution in which they also asked the Senate to urge the executive department to release the “definitive draft of the oil and gas agreement with China, or any other agreement involving Philippine natural resources,” before this is signed.

They also asked the Senate to call on the executive not to sign any agreement that would diminish the Philippines’ exclusive right to explore, develop and use its natural resources.

Administration senators expect the President to discuss with Xi a possible partnership to explore for oil and natural gas in the West Philippine Sea — waters within the country’s 370-kilometer exclusive economic zone in the South China Sea — as well as freedom of navigation in the heavily disputed waterway.

They also hope the President would discuss the issue of China as the source of illegal drugs being sold in the Philippines, and concerns that Chinese loans may come with strings attached.

Pangilinan and Trillanes cited allegations that China produced a draft entitled “Framework Agreement on Joint Maritime Oil and Gas Exploration between China and the Philippines.”

Unconstitutional

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“Signing the Chinese draft violates the Constitution because the Philippines will lose its exclusive sovereign rights over its natural resources,” they said in their resolution.

According to them, this would lead to the country essentially recognizing an unlawful co-ownership with China of the West Philippine Sea since Chinese and Filipino nationals would jointly decide the exploration, development and use of the resources there.

“This will fulfill President Rodrigo Duterte’s alarming statement that China’s ‘offer [of] joint exploration … [which] is like co-ownership. It’s like the two of us would be the owners. I think that’s better than fighting,’” they added.

They noted that the draft states that the joint exploration would not affect their respective positions on sovereignty and maritime rights, but added that implementing it “actually concedes the Philippines’ exclusive sovereign rights over its natural resources to China notwithstanding such a provision.”

They also pointed out that no claimant state in the South China Sea has accepted China’s offer of joint development of natural resources as this would involve the recognition of Beijing’s sweeping claim over the disputed waters, as this would prejudice the states’ rights to and entitlements under international law, they added.

The Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague invalidated China’s claim to nearly all of the South China Sea in 2016 and recognized the Philippines’ sovereign rights to fish and explore for resources in the West Philippine Sea.

The President, however, set aside the ruling to improve political and economic relations with China.

He, however, promised to raise the ruling with China at the proper time.

‘Peace and stability’

It was not clear as of press time on Monday whether Xi and the President would discuss the territorial row, but presidential spokesperson Salvador Panelo mentioned the dispute in a statement, lauding Xi for “China’s efforts to promote peace and stability in our region, through dialogues and consultation in handling the South China Sea issue.”

Former Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario, who led the Philippine challenge to China’s sweeping claim in the South China Sea during the Aquino administration, released an open letter to Xi urging China to adhere to the rule of law in settling the territorial dispute.

“We sincerely hope that Beijing will pursue the wise path of moderation, reason and fairness with China taking into full account the legitimate national interest of its neighbors,” Del Rosario said.

“Given its stature and power, Your Excellency, it is imperative that China play its proper role in adhering to the rule of law to preserve stability, security and peace in the world so that we may all continue to pursue our aspirations for development and progress. China would possess, moreover, an incredible opportunity to stand as a champion of principle, fairness and inclusiveness in disputes and disagreements in the world,” he said.

Sen. Sonny Angara said he hoped the President would discuss with Xi any possible partnership with respect to the West Philippine Sea “since relations seem to be going well the past few years.”

Angara also hoped the two leaders would tackle the fast-tracking of China-funded infrastructure projects in the country.

Sen. JV Ejercito said he hoped Mr. Duterte would clarify with Xi the freedom of navigation in the South China Sea.

Strings attached

He also wanted the President to discuss the terms of China’s funding of projects in the Philippines, saying he was worried about any strings
attached to these.

He also hoped the President would bring up with Xi the smuggling of illegal drugs from China into the Philippines. He noted that many of the foreign drug suspects arrested in the country come from China.

Minority Leader Franklin Drilon said he hoped the President would ask Xi about the delays in the release of Chinese loans and pledges to the Philippines.

Drilon said he had yet to see the economic advantages of the Duterte administration’s pivot to China. —With reports from Christine O. Avendaño and Julie M. Aurelio

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TAGS: China-Philippines deals, Rodrigo Duterte, Xi Jinping
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