Proceed with caution on China oil deal, says Carpio

Lian Buan

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Proceed with caution on China oil deal, says Carpio
'The only way to prevent a cessation of our sovereign rights is not to sign anything that will cede it. You cannot cure it after the fact,' says Acting Chief Justice Antonio Carpio

MANILA, Philippines – While the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) on the oil deal signed with China is “safe,” the Philippines must proceed with caution in crafting the final agreement before it’s too late, Acting Chief Justice Antonio Carpio warned on Saturday, November 24.

Carpio made the statement on the sidelines of a forum at the University of the Philippines Bonifacio Global City (UP-BGC) campus on Saturday, in response to questions about the joint exploration MOU signed between the Philippines and China during the visit of Chinese President Xi Jinping to the country this week.

Carpio said Philippine officials should make sure that the final agreement would not  give away the country’s sovereign rights to China, because if that should happen, even the Supreme Court (SC) will not be able to stop it.

“Once you cede it, and it takes effect immediately, there is no tribunal that has jurisdiction over China unless China agrees to submit – and China will never agree. So the only way to prevent a cessation of our sovereign rights is not to sign anything that will cede it. You cannot cure it after the fact,” Carpio said.

In 2013, the Philippines brought China before the United Nations-backed Permanent Court of Arbitration in the Hague, the Netherlands, to settle their dispute in the West Philippine Sea. China did not recognize the case from the start, and ignored the Philippines’ historic victory at the international tribunal in 2016. (TIMELINE: The Philippines-China maritime dispute)

Carpio said that if there would come a time when the final oil deal would be questioned before the High Court – and it he would still be there, since he would retire in Cotober 2019 – he would inhibit. But he noted that that any vote of the bench would not affect what has already been signed. 

He said this is why he was raising his concerns now, before a final binding agreement is signed.

“So it’s better for me to speak now so that a document like that will not be signed. That’s the only way to prevent the loss of sovereign rights,” Carpio said.

Carpio said the current MOU is “safe” because it explores the idea of China participating in an exploration through Philippine service contracts. “Our vehicles are the service contractors and that’s fine, because in the service contract it’s clear that the Philippines has sovereign rights,” said Carpio.

Carpio said that moving forward, Filipinos must demand full transparency and be vigilant of any resemblance of agreement to a joint exploration with China.

“Joint means you’re partners in exploring, but the Constitution says the State shall have full control and supervision in the exploration and development of our natural resources. Kapag (If it’s) joint, you’re no longer in full control – half control is given to another party, (so) we should avoid joint development,” said Carpio.

Carpio has been shortlisted to become the next chief justice, but he said this will not stop him from continuing to speak out against China’s incursions.

“That’s part of the territory,” said Carpio.

Asked if he was prepared to lose the SC leadership over his position against joint development with China, Carpio smiled and said, “I am always an optimist.”

For all stories, videos and views on Xi Jinping’s visit to the Philippines, go to this page.

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Lian Buan

Lian Buan is a senior investigative reporter, and minder of Rappler's justice, human rights and crime cluster.