POSTSCRIPT / November 25, 2018 / Sunday


Opinion Columnist

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MoU is no ‘sell-out’ nor ‘act of betrayal’

THE RECENT signing of a Memorandum of Understanding between the Philippines and China on oil and gas exploration stirred some sectors watching for missteps in President Duterte’s dealings with China President Xi Jinping.

Examining the rough MoU copy presented by a senator and what appeared to be an official version obtained later by CNN Philippines, we failed to find indications of an alleged “sellout” of the national patrimony or “acts of betrayal” by President Duterte.

As its title says, the MoU signed last Tuesday is just a memorandum of understanding. It refers only to joint exploration, not yet the exploitation, of mineral resources in the West Philippine Sea under another agreement or contract still to be negotiated.

The CNN copy is three pages in plain English (there is a Chinese version). We failed to see any part or section that appears to be in clear violation of the Constitution, but that is for the Supreme Court to decide if the matter is brought before it.

A reading of the MoU showed it to be a reiteration of an understanding for joint exploration that could ripen into an agreement for development or exploitation if a plethora of conditions are met to the satisfaction of both countries.

The parties gave themselves 12 months to agree on a working arrangement. An inter-governmental steering committee and a one or more inter-entrepreneurial working groups will be set up. The groups will consist of representatives from enterprises authorized by the two governments.

Beijing has appointed the state-owned China National Offshore Oil Corp. as its representative. The Philippines still has to authorize an enterprise or enterprises which has/have entered into a service contract with the government. If there are none, authority will likely be given to the Philippine National Oil Co.-Exploration Corp. (PNOC-EC).

The MoU says all negotiations under it “will be without prejudice to the respective legal positions of both governments.” The document does not “create rights or obligations under international or domestic law,” but is silent on any possible derogation of rights.

(Foreign Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. wrote/edited the final MoU as signed by him and China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi with President Duterte and President Xi as witnesses. It was one of 29 documents signed at the conclusion of Xi’s Nov. 20-21 state visit.)

As Locsin pointed out, the MoU merely establishes a framework on which a possible agreement could be fleshed out later. If either of the parties is not satisfied with the terms (still to be negotiated) or is simply not ready to commit itself, no deal.

The “Context” part of the MoU cites the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, a treaty signed by both countries that in July 2017 formed the basis of an award by the Permanent Court of Arbitration at The Hague invalidating China’s claim over virtually 88 percent of the South China Sea.

Although Beijing refused to recognize the jurisdiction, and later also the decision, of the arbitral tribunal, China recognized the UNCLOS when it signed the MoU. It also bound itself to abide by applicable rules of international law, including the 2002 Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea.

The MoU did not specify the maritime sections targeted for possible joint oil and gas exploration and exploitation, merely referring to “relevant maritime areas” that are presumably mentioned in the minutes.

By citing the Constitution in the MoU, the Philippines also drew China, and itself, into recognizing Section 2, Article XII, which provides:

“xxx The exploration, development, and utilization of natural resources shall be under the full control and supervision of the State. The State may directly undertake such activities, or it may enter into co-production, joint venture, or production-sharing agreements with Filipino citizens, or corporations or associations at least 60 per centum of whose capital is owned by such citizens.

“xxx The President may enter into agreements with foreign-owned corporations involving either technical or financial assistance for large-scale exploration, development, and utilization of minerals, petroleum, and other mineral oils according to the general terms and conditions provided by law, based on real contributions to the economic growth and general welfare of the country.”

 Pope appoints Davao priest a bishop

POPE Francis has appointed Fr. Ronald Lunas, a priest from Davao del Sur, as the new bishop of Pagadian in Zamboanga del Sur. His appointment was announced Nov. 22 by the Vatican.

The Catholic Bishop Conference of the Philippines said that Father Lunas is the parish priest of St. Joseph the Worker Parish in Sta. Cruz, Davao del Sur. He succeeds Redemptorist Bishop Emmanuel Cabajar, 76, whose resignation as Pagadian bishop has been accepted by the Pope.

Bishop-elect Lunas was born Nov. 27, 1966, in Bala, Magsaysay town in Davao del Sur, under the diocese of Digos.

He obtained his philosophy degree at the St. Francis Xavier College Seminary in Davao City, after which he studied theology at St. Francis Regional Major Seminary also in Davao.

He was ordained priest for the Digos diocese on April 7, 1992, and assigned as parochial vicar at the parish of the Immaculate Conception in Caburan village in Jose Abad Santos town. He finished his Licentiate in Sacred Theology at the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome in 1992.

Upon his return from Rome, he first served as professor and later as dean of the St. Francis Xavier Regional Major Seminary. From 2005 to 2008, he was assigned Chancellor of Digos. In 2008 he became parish priest of the parish of St. Isidro Labrador in Davao City.

Since 2013, he has been serving as the Episcopal Vicar for the Clergy, a member of the College of Consultors and of the Presbyteral Council.

(First published in the Philippine STAR of November 25, 2018)

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