By Herman Tiu Laurel

President Ferdinand R. Marcos Jr. is absolutely correct in saying that the Philippines needs the completion of the PH-China 60/40 oil-gas deal more than China, a point that some in the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) spearheading the talks with China don’t seem to realize. However, PBBM also seems stumped as alleged jurisdictional impediments are posed by legal experts that some believe are out to sabotage the deal in behalf of vested interests.

The vested interests have been laying explosive mines on the South China Sea lines of communication between China and the Philippines since the US announced its “Asia Pivot” in 2011, despite decades of goodwill building between the Philippines and China since the 1975 establishment of formal diplomatic relations, the Deng Xiaoping-Cory Aquino meeting in 1988 where the two tacitly agreed to “set aside differences” to pursue mutually beneficial projects.

Fast forwarding to the first decade of the 21st century, Philippine-China relations continued to prosper with various joint projects such as the USD500-million North Rail project and the Joint Maritime Seismic Undertaking (JMSU, which Vietnam later joined) but both of which were scuttled by Senate American boys who intervened with baseless allegations of secrecy, corruption and security threats ending the promising initiatives for fruitful cooperation.

When President Rodrigo R. Duterte won the 2016 elections, the entire picture turned around and genuine Philippine-China cooperation blossomed into a “comprehensive strategic cooperation” and in November of 2018 the two countries signed the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) on joint oil and gas development in what the Philippines calls the “West Philippine Sea” and otherwise known to China and the rest of the world as part of the South China Sea.

Subsequently Duterte in 2019, after the deal with President Xi Jinping in 2018, reported that Xi’s advice: “’Set aside the arbitral ruling... Set aside your claim. Then allow everybody connected with the Chinese companies. They want to explore and if there is something, they said, we would be gracious enough to give you 60 percent, they will only get 40 percent. That is the promise of Xi Jinping.” We can tell it is a wise advice, especially the 60/40 favoring the Philippines.

Filipinos must be advised about the arbitration that even the United Nations spokesman Stefan Dujarric in 2016 right after the arbitration panel announced its award said: “’The UN doesn't have a position on the legal and procedural merits’" of the South China Sea arbitration case, stated formally in a press conference at the UN headquarters. Those who are harping on the arbitration award are actually just obstructing resolution of the Philippines’ prospects of benefitting from cooperation with China.

The arbitration award bait is like the cartoon of the primate with its hands inside a long neck bottled holding on to the banana of a scrap of paper marked “arbitration”, the primate forever stuck holding on to it. It’ll be free only when it realizes it’s a pipe dream to keep hanging on to the banana of arbitration, meanwhile the country starves of energy and continues its enslavement to the vicissitudes of the international oil market and controlled by US-linked oil compradors and agents in the country

The opposition to a progressive economically growing Philippines have been using “lawfare” (everyone will have to get to know the term, it’s the use of provisions of laws as instruments of war, or weaponization of law). The US through its Amboys have been using this “lawfare” not firstly against China but against the Philippines and its economic development. They overturned that 1973 Constitution and instituted the 1986 Cory Constitution which subverted the strong State.

The Electric Power Industry Reform Act (EPIRA) of 2001 removed the power industry from the hands of the State and transferred wholly every aspect to the private corporate (oligarchy) sector to manipulate and de-industrialize, de-investment grade the Philippines through exorbitant rates and unstable and perennially short supply of the Philippine electricity industry that enriched fabulously the oligarchy reinforcing the political power of this clique’s corporate control through media consolidation.

Economic control breeds political control and finally control of the public mind through media, that is what happened through the past 20 years of the Edsa counter-revolutionary clique’s control of the Philippines, reaching the point that they controlled the entire Cabinet by President Noynoy Aquino’s time and appointed Albert del Rosario to head the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) to institute anti-China strategies and economic subversion for US-Salim control of Philippine oil sources.

Del Rosario is an executive in several boards of the Salim group of companies under Manny Pangilinan, and the group’s power is such that they considered the Noynoy government under its direct supervision. In March of 2014 ABS-CBN (another of its US-oligarchy linkages) reported “Pangilinan offers Spratlys to Chinese oil firm in Reed Bank talks”.

Here is the direct quote from the report, “Business tycoon Manuel Pangilinan offered China’s state-owned oil firm access to the Spratly group of islands in the South China Sea over which the Philippines has a territorial claim...” and this is the link ( ). Reflect on the deeper implications of this attitude of Manny Pangilinan and his group.

The Philippines has a presidential system of government designed to have a strong chief executive to cut through contentious political bickering and conflicting interests as, for example, we see in the PH-China oil-gas deal case. A strong chief executive should when situations require exercise strong political will to surmount impasses in government decision making -- and this critical dependency on unstable international market conditions for energy is one such crises.

There are enough provisions in that Constitution to provide the transcendent justification to overcome some Philippines lawyers’ issue on jurisdiction over disagreements between the two parties to the Reed Bank Oil-Gas deal, only strong political will of the Chief Executive is required to reach a Win-Win solution -- and the legal experts parroting Salim group’s legal luminary ex-SC justice Antonio Carpio’s roadblocks won’t be budged unless strong political enforcement is used.

There are other ways to be found if one thinks out of the box, and our colleague, author and former diplomat, Ado Paglinawan has found another approach for the administration to study to fast track resolution now stuck in legal limbo. Propose and negotiate a special treaty to cover the oilgas deal formulating mutually agreeable compromises over the impediments that persists in the regular level of negotiations between legal experts of both sides.

Ado Paglinawan wrote about this approach recently, focusing on how the small country of Timor-Leste and Australia signed a treaty that finally allowed the two countries to exploit their shared sea and its resources together. Australia withdrew its insistence on “continental shelf” principles after 14 years of Timor-Leste’s leaders conceding to Canberra’s stubbornness by signing several agreements to enable oil and gas production. A new venue and approach may allow a fresh look at the obstinate issues.

President Marcos acknowledges the urgency of the PH-China oil-gas deal for the welfare of the Philippines, and President Rodrigo R. Duterte in March of 2022 (after probably hearing of the Teddyboy Locsin intention of “terminating” the talks) reminded the nation that “the country must honor its commitment to conduct joint exploration with China at the disputed Recto Bank to prevent a heated conflict between the two countries.”

We all know the intention of the US is too stoke that “heated conflict” and it is the sinister objective of the combination of Manny Pangilinan’s PXP Energy in combination with the British Forum Energy and Salim group to grab the Recto Bank oil-gas fields for itself and deny the Filipino people its rightful share from it while China has already agreed to 60 percent for the Philippines when the project pushes through. There should be nothing to keep the Republic of the Philippines from grabbing the opportunity for the win-win solution.

Editor’s note: The opinions expressed in the foregoing article are solely the author’s and do not reflect the opinions and beliefs of the Philippine News Agency (PNA) or any other office under the Office of the Press Secretary. 

About the Columnist

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Herman Tiu Laurel is a veteran journalist and founder of think tank PHILIPPINE-BRICS Strategic Studies.