Philippines and The Spratly Islands - History - JMSU Controversy

JMSU Controversy

The Joint Marine Seismic Undertaking (JMSU) is a tripartite agreement between the Philippines, China and Vietnam to conduct seismic exploration in an area spanning 142,886 square kilometers west of Palawan, all of which are within Philippine territories (as defined by EEZ of UNCLOS and does not necessarily mean as accepted by China and Vietnam). More specifically it is an agreement between Philippine National Oil Company -Exploration Corporation (PNOC-EC), China National Offshore Oil Corporation (CNOOC) and Vietnam Oil and Gas Corporation (PetroVietnam), that was signed in September 2004 and took effect in July 2005. JMSU has already finished the first phase of the seismic exploration which lasted from September 1 to November 16, 2006, covering 11,000 line kilometers. A Chinese vessel conducted the survey, Vietnam processed the data gathered and this was interpreted by PNOC-EC in Manila. The second phase started in October 2007, covering 11,800 line kilometers. It was supposedly to end January 2008.

A controversy broke out when Barry Wain, a researcher in the Institute for Southeast Asian Studies in Singapore, wrote an article in the January–February 2008 issue of the Hong-Kong-based Far Eastern Economic Review saying that "it was largely a sellout on the part of the Philippines". Wain wrote:

The Philippines ... has made breathtaking concessions in agreeing to the area for study, including parts of its own continental shelf not even claimed by China and Vietnam.

Regarding the area of exploration he stated:

thrusts into the Spratlys and abuts Malampaya, a Philippine producing gas field. About one-sixth of the entire area, closest to the Philippine coastline, is outside the claims by China and Vietnam.

This prompted the Philippine Senate and House of Representatives (HR) to seek separate inquiries into the said agreement. Several senators alleged that "the agreement weakens the government's position in its claim over the disputed islands." Also, some alleged that it is a "precondition" set by China in exchange of some loan agreements. After signing the agreement, China has committed Philippines $2 billion USD a year in loans. President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo is suspected by some legislators to be hiding the facts about the agreement. Malacañang rebuts by saying that the agreement is not hidden and is actually posted in a government website. However, legislators are not convinced. They say Malacañang intentionally did not disseminate the right amount of information about the agreement including a detailed map which was only made available by Malacañang few days after the controversy broke out to a limited number of people. China denied the allegations connecting the deal with the loans.

Another puzzle some legislators pointed out is the continued delay in the passage of the bill setting the Philippines’ archipelagic baselines. The bill is needed to be passed before the middle of 2009 to beat the deadline set by the United Nations for the measures defining countries’ territorial claims. The bill has just passed its second reading and the third and final reading is not yet started. Furthermore, the HR committee on foreign affairs received a message from Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) saying that the bill should not be passed because it is in conflict with some international agreements the government had entered to.

The Philippine Senate, which is an opposition-majority block, believes that the President can be impeached if she was proven to have forsaken the national interests of the Philippines. Charges can include treason, betrayal of public trust, violation of the constitution and other charges related to other anomalies the Arroyo is currently facing. The Philippine Senate believes that the agreement should have gone through them for ratification before it could take effect.

Opposition legislators also say that the agreement is a betrayal to the 10-member ASEAN. After ASEAN, as a group, confronted China 10 years ago regarding the latter’s apparent of hegemonic motive in South China Sea, the legislators said that Philippines had made an agreement with China on its own without even consulting other ASEAN states. Vietnam is said to have initially resisted joining the agreement but was eventually "forced" to join to protect its own interest after Philippines gave China a 100% OK.

The alleged betrayal also extends up to the signing of the Code of Conduct in 2002. The legislators said that after convincing the other ASEAN states to force China sign the Declaration, which China initially resisted, the Philippines had made an agreement which will clearly affect the fates of other ASEAN states without even consulting them. The legislators also say that Arroyo became too soft regarding China’s claim over the Spratlys, while all other ASEAN states are still strongly rejecting it.

Malacañang, on the other hand, continues to stress that there is nothing wrong with the agreement and that it doesn’t go against the constitution. They contend that the agreement is for purely seismic activities only, without any actual exploitation activities, thus there is no need for a Senate ratification. Supporters of the agreement contend that the nature of the activity is a scientific one which helps in easing the tensions among the three involved nations. They also say that the JMSU is not different from other agreements the Philippines had made in the past with Australia and Norway regarding the oil in the Spratlys. Critics, on the other hand, pointed that Australia and Norway are in a different situation since neither of these countries is a claimant to the Spratlys.

Because of the controversy, some Philippine legislators were alarmed by the increasing Chinese influence in the Philippines which is in parallel with the growing influence of China in other countries, especially in Africa. Reports came out saying that the United States was "pissed off" by the Philippines’ deal with China, signifying a war of the US and China for dominance in the ASEAN region. The US embassy in Manila denied the reports.

Read more about this topic:  Philippines And The Spratly Islands, History

Famous quotes containing the word controversy:

    And therefore, as when there is a controversy in an account, the parties must by their own accord, set up for right Reason, the Reason of some Arbitrator, or Judge, to whose sentence, they will both stand, or their controversy must either come to blows, or be undecided, for want of a right Reason constituted by Nature; so is it also in all debates of what kind soever.
    Thomas Hobbes (1579–1688)