Solon cautions President on megadeals with China
Beware of Chinese bearing gifts.
An opposition lawmaker on Wednesday cautioned the Duterte administration against entering into any “megadeals” with China, including joint exploration ventures in disputed waters in the South China Sea, saying it might compromise the Philippines’ stake in the area.
“A joint exploration with China while skipping around the issue of how to resolve Chinese incursion into the West Philippine Sea is tantamount to giving up on our sovereign claims,” Akbayan Rep. Tomasito Villarin said, using the local name for waters within the Philippines’ 370-kilometer exclusive economic zone in the South China Sea.
But House of Representatives Minority Leader Danilo Suarez and Buhay Rep. Lito Atienza said there was nothing intrinsically wrong with entering into a joint venture with China, provided there were safeguards so the Philippines would not be at a disadvantage in sharing.
The Inquirer reported on Wednesday that the Philippines was poised to enter into a deal with China on joint exploration for energy resources in the heavily disputed South China Sea.
The deal, which will be forged during President Duterte’s visit to China this week, will cover exploration, initially in uncontested areas “closer to the Philippines,” including Recto Bank.
But Villarin, a member of an independent minority faction, said such a move might not be wise at a time when Mr. Duterte should be focusing on asserting the decision of the UN-backed Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague that invalidated China’s claim to 90 percent of the South China Sea.
“Winning our case at the UN arbitral tribunal and asserting it fulfills the constitutional mandate of having an independent foreign policy. But asking permission from China to fish [in] Philippine waters degrades our status as a sovereign nation and will subject us to international ridicule,” Villarin said.
Last week, Supreme Court Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio said Mr. Duterte risked impeachment if he gave up sovereignty over Scarborough Shoal or Panatag Shoal, which China seized from the Philippines in 2012.
Mr. Duterte said he agreed with Carpio.
“At this critical juncture when continuing Chinese aggression has compromised our territorial integrity, specifically at Panatag Shoal, any large-scale investment deal with China will be seen as a sellout,” Villarin said.
Speaking at a press forum, Suarez said he welcomed the idea of a joint exploration with China. “A joint exploration does not mean we are giving up our territorial claims,” he said.
Atienza, on the other hand, said a joint venture “did not necessarily mean bad or deplorable or illegal,” likening it to mining contracts.
“But we have to see the specifics. If it’s seen that after the discovery of oil, we will only own 10 percent, that would be bad,” he said.
Villarin said the idea of Chinese megadeals reminded him of the aborted NBN-ZTE scandal—corruption-ridden national broadband deal—and the Northrail project for which the Philippines overpaid the Chinese contractor for unfinished work.
He also cited problems in business agreements forged by China with other developing countries.
“In Uganda, the Chinese government committed to invest in an ambitious $1.5 billion eco-city project in 2008, but it never materialized,” he said. TVJ
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