Locsin bares parts of Philippines’ oil deal with China

Paterno Esmaquel II
Locsin bares parts of Philippines’ oil deal with China
(UPDATED) Foreign Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr says he needs China's permission to release the complete oil deal signed during the visit of Chinese President Xi Jinping

MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – Philippine Foreign Secretary Teodoro “Teddyboy” Locsin Jr on Thursday, November 22, bared parts of the oil and gas development deal between the Philippines and China in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea).

But Locsin, who penned the deal, said he will need China’s permission to release the full document, which was signed during Chinese President Xi Jinping’s historic state visit to the Philippines.

Locsin’s statements confirm an exclusive Rappler report published on Wednesday, November 21, that the memorandum of understanding (MOU) creates a body to study how the Philippines and China can pursue joint exploration in the West Philippine Sea. 

“I decided I’m going to write that agreement, and the Chinese – and that’s why I’m going to ask for their permission to release this, I’m not going to listen to anyone else – because they trusted me enough to produce a memorandum of understanding, more or less along the way, New York lawyers would do it, no-nonsense, straight to the point, hardly any comments,” Locsin said on CNN Philippines’ The Source. 

Locsin, a lawyer and former TV host, brought with him to his CNN Philippines interview a copy of the controversial MOU. Reporters had pressed Malacañang and the Department of Foreign Affairs to release a copy of the MOU, to no avail – while advocates such as Locsin’s predecessor, Albert del Rosario, call for full transparency.

In the presence of Locsin, CNN Philippines anchor Pinky Webb then read the beginning lines of the MOU, while Locsin read the succeeding portions.

Here is the partial transcript of Locsin’s interview with Webb, where they both read portions of the MOU on oil and gas development:

WEBB: “Memorandum of Understanding on Cooperation of Oil and Gas Development between the Government of the People’s Republic of China and the Government of the Republic of the Philippines,” written by Secretary Teddyboy Locsin Jr. All right. “Recalling the Charter of the United Nations, the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea or UNCLOS, and the 2002 Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea, and acknowledging that through positive dialogue and practical cooperation, herein referred to as the two governments, have made substantial progress and meaningful gains in exploring opportunities and means to cooperate with each other in maritime activities, which has made significant contributions to peace, stability, and development in the region.” What does that mean, Sir? 

LOCSIN: It’s a context that means that we’re looking at this agreement under the Charter of the United Nations, the UNCLOS, the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties. It’s with full awareness of the limitations that puts on what states can and cannot do in the area. And then the basic principle is, of course, mutual respect, fairness, mutual benefit, flexibility, pragmatism. Remind me about pragmatism, because China said something really good about – like a free trade agreement between East Asian countries, among them, and China said, and some of the countries like Myanmar said, “But we’re not all in the same stage of development.” To which China said, “Of course, would the Americans give a template, take it or leave it.” But China said: “Yeah, take it or leave it. But be pragmatic. And it has to work. Or else what’s the point of imposing it?” So that’s the importance of that word.

WEBB: That’s Section 2.

LOCSIN: Yeah. And then it’s a working mechanism. The heart of it is this: “The two governments will establish an intergovernmental joint steering committee, here and after referred to as Committee, and one or more Inter-Enterpreneurial Working Groups. The Committee will be co-chaired by the foreign ministries and co-vice chaired by the vice ministries, with the participation of relevant agencies of the two governments. Each working group will consist of representatives from enterprises authorized by the two governments.” As I said, I will release this when I get permission from China, not that they’re asking me to get permission, but I think I owe it to China to have trust in me, implicitly, to write this, as I wanted it. 

WEBB: But you’ll still read it for us?

LOCSIN: Yes. “The Committee will be responsible for negotiating and agreeing the cooperation arrangements in maritime areas to which they will apply, and deciding the number of working groups to be established and for which part of the cooperation area each working group is established. Each working group will negotiate and agree on inter-enterpreneurial, technical, and commercial arrangements that will apply in the relevant working area. China authorizes China National Offshore Oil Corporation as the Chinese enterprise of each working group. The Philippines will authorize other enterprises because that’s how we do things, with service contracts, by giving them service contracts, or the Philippine National Oil Company. The two governments will endeavor to agree on the cooperation arrangements endeavor within 12 months of this memorandum of agreement. Relevant position: This memorandum of understanding and all discussions, negotiations, and activities of the two governments, or the authorized enterprises under or pursuant to this Memorandum of Understanding will be without prejudice to the respective legal positions of both governments. This Memorandum of Understanding does not create rights or obligations under international or domestic law. Nature of information is confidental. Any other matters relating to the memorandum may be referred jointly by the two governments to the committee or working group for consultation. Done in Manila, 20th November 2018.”

When asked what the MOU is all about, Locsin cited Energy Secretary Alfonso Cusi who said “it is a memorandum of understanding to agree to arrive at an agreement.” Locsin said it is “an agreement to agree.” – Rappler.com

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Paterno Esmaquel II

Paterno R. Esmaquel II, news editor of Rappler, specializes in covering religion and foreign affairs. He obtained his MA Journalism degree from Ateneo and later finished MSc Asian Studies (Religions in Plural Societies) at RSIS, Singapore. For story ideas or feedback, email him at pat.esmaquel@rappler.com.