Senators push for release of draft joint exploration deal with China

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, November 20) — Two senators filed a resolution seeking the release of the government's draft joint exploration deal with China on the West Philippine Sea, just in time for Chinese President Xi Jinping's state visit.

Senators Antonio Trillanes and Kiko Pangilinan filed Senate Resolution 943 Sunday urging to see the draft of the oil and gas exploration agreement with China before it is signed.

"We are demanding transparency. Ano ba pipirmahan baka masusubo tayo dyan. We're calling them out, walang consultation na nangyari with the legislature," Trillanes said.

[Translation: We are demanding transparency. What are they signing? We'll probably be in trouble for that. We're calling them out, there are no consultation happening with the legislature.]

The senators argued there are allegations that China produced a draft entitled "Framework Agreement on Joint Maritime Oil and Gas Exploration between China and the Philippines".

Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo argued that whether the author of the draft is China or the Philippines is irrelevant since the agreement still has to be reviewed by the Philippine government.

"It doesn't matter who drafted it. As far as we are concerned, you give us the draft, then we'll go over it. We have to see whether this is legal or not, whether it is beneficial to us or not. Even if China drafts it, it has to go over us. We have to review that. In the same manner that if we draft it, it will have to pass over them too," Panelo told the press Tuesday.

The senators said the draft states that exploration, development, and utilization of the resources will be jointly decided by Chinese and Filipino nationals. This is a violation of the Constitution, they argued, because it promotes a "co-ownership with China of the West Philippine Sea."

The Senate resolution cited Article XII, Section 2 of the 1987 Constitution which states that "exploration, development, and utilization of natural resources shall be under the full control and supervision of the state."

In July 12, 2016 the Philippines was awarded the South China Sea Arbitration which ruled that the West Philippine Sea, or areas of the South China Sea that lie within the country's 200-mile exclusive economic zone, is exclusively owned by the Philippines.

"Thus, any agreement which diminishes or undermines the Philippines' 'full control and supervision' of its natural resources including oil and gas violates the constitution," the resolution stated.

However, Malacañang disputed the release of documents on the matter as "premature" given that the officials have yet to sign the agreement. He assured that any agreement signed by the government would serve the country's interests.

"We assure that any agreement that we will enter into with a foreign government or entity would stand the judicial scrutiny of both countries and its constitutionality, if challenged, would be upheld," Panelo said.

President Xi arrived in the country on Tuesday to discuss joint exploration plans with the Philippines in a two-day state visit.