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Aquino: Venture with Beijing harder to keep than marriage

MANILA, Philippines – Conflicts affect even the best of marriages.

So will tensions rise in possible joint ventures between the Philippines and China in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea), President Benigno Aquino III told reporters Wednesday evening, October 9.

That's fine, the bachelor president said – as long as the Philippines has the final say within its own seas.

“'Yung joint development, in principle, bakit hindi? Pero, on the other hand, ‘pag ginawa mong praktikalan doon… Siyempre, ano ba ‘yung joint development, joint venture? Magkakaroon kayo ng kasunduan based on whose laws? So 'pag nag... 'di ba? Pati naman 'yung mga nangako noong 'kinasal sila na for life, ano, for better or richer, poorer or richer, better or worse ay nagkakaroon ng alitan,” Aquino said on the sidelines of the 23rd Association of Southeast Asian Nations Summit in Brunei.

(Joint development, in principle, why not? But, on the other hand, if we get practical about it... Of course, what's a joint development, joint venture? We will have agreements based on whose laws? So consider this. Even those who promised, when they got married, to stay for better or richer, poorer or richer, better or worse, get caught in conflicts.)

He explained it is crucial to clarify two things: whose laws will prevail, and which dispute resolution mechanism the parties will use.

'Di ba, para 'yung isang tao mag-behave properly, dapat alam niya 'yung obligasyon niya, alam niya 'yung karapatan niya,” he explained. (For a person to behave properly, he should know his obligations; he should know his rights.)

The President cited the example of Service Contract 72, which gave a company of businessman Manuel V Pangilinan the right to explore Recto Bank (Reed Bank) in the West Philippine Sea.

To forge a compromise on Recto Bank, Pangilinan said his company was negotiating only with the state-owned China National Offshore Oil Corporation.

Tapos nu'ng klinaro natin: joint venture, walang problema; you conform to Philippine laws, okay sa amin. Nu'ng diniin natin ‘yon, biglang natigil 'yung usapan,” Aquino said. (When we clarified: joint venture, no problem; you conform to Philippine laws, it's okay with us. When we emphasized that, suddenly the talks ended.)

Earlier in the ASEAN Summit, Aquino took a jab at China in urging parties in maritime disputes to “follow the rule of law.”

China on 'provocative' Aquino

China sees Aquino as “provocative” unlike his “more receptive” predecessor, Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, the International Crisis Group (ICG) said in 2012.

“The previous administration of Gloria Macapagal Arroyo had been considerably more receptive to Beijing's commercial incentives and was apparently willing to compromise Philippine claims in response,” the think-tank said.

“China sees the Aquino government's stronger stance as provocative, and has responded by increasing its presence in disputed areas,” the ICG added.

The ICG cited the Joint Marine Seismic Undertaking (JMSU), a joint exploration project that the Arroyo administration entered into with China, as well as Vietnam. Up to 80% of the JMSU site is within waters claimed by the Philippines.

In a Newsbreak report in 2008, legal experts said the government “effectively derogated the Philippines' sovereignty over the marine resources around the province of Palawan.”

“The former government could be bought; the current government cannot,” explained an ICG correspondence with an anonymous source. “The Chinese are likely playing a waiting game, hoping that the government will eventually be out of power and a new government will enable them to return to their tried and true tactics.”

Aquino's hardline stance has delayed joint explorations in Recto Bank.

The Recto Bank could hold up to 5.4 billion barrels of oil and 55.1 trillion cubic feet of natural gas, according to a report by the US Energy Information Administration. – Rappler.com

Paterno R. 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.

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