Treason in the Spratlys

Treason in high places is a historical cliché and has been a staple of conspiracy theorists for centuries.

But broadcast journalist and blogger Ricky Carandang has made a recent post that should give us real cause for alarm, as it involves (surprise!) President Gloria Macapagal —Arroyo and our most economically vibrant and militarily powerful neighbor, The People’s Republic of China.

According to Mr. Carandang, the Philippine and Chinese governments, acting through state-owned energy companies, signed an agreement in 2003 to jointly explore the Spratly Islands, which we call the Kalayaan Islands, near Palawan. The area contains significant reserves of oil and natural gas, which is why seven countries (China, Vietnam, Taiwan, Malaysia, Indonesia, Brunei, and the Philippines) all claim to own part or all of the Spratlys. Naturally, none of the claims have been resolved and it has been a regional flashpoint for decades. Hence, an uneasy peace prevails over this cluster of tiny islands, hardly more than rocks and reefs, in the South China Sea.

The agreement between the Philippine National Oil Company and China National Offshore Oil Corporation allows the two corporations to jointly undertake seismic studies of the Spratlys and explore for oil and natural gas. Of course, joint exploration should mean subsequent joint exploitation of whatever natural resources lie there. That is, if our far more powerful partner will allow us to sit at the table. What if China decides to keep everything for itself ? But I’m getting ahead of the story.

The deal made the other Spratly claimants angry, undermined regional stability, allowed China access to what we claim are our oil reserves and generally placed us at a disadvantage vis-à-vis our energy-hungry and aggressive neighbor. Mr. Carandang explains why this happened:

What would compel Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo to sign a deal that potentially undermines regional stability, possibly grants China parity rights to oil reserves in the Spratlys that we claim to be ours, and likely violates our constitution?

How about $2 billion a year? After the Spratly deal was signed, the Chinese government committed $2 billion in official development assistance a year to the Philippines until 2010, when Arroyo is supposed to step down from office. My sources tell me that the Spratly deal was an explicit precondition to the loans.

A sizable amount to be sure, but for the Arroyo administration the China loans are particularly appealing. Not so much because the interest rates are so low and the repayment terms so lenient, but because Chinese loans do not have the cumbersome requirements that loans from the US, Japan, the EU, and big multilateral lenders have. Requirements for documentation, bidding, transparency and other details that make it very difficult for corrupt public officials to commit graft. In fact, in November of last year, those cumbersome requirements made it impossible for some government officials and private individuals with sticky fingers to avail themselves of the World Bank’s generosity.

It had gotten to the point where a corrupt government could no longer make a dishonest buck. That is until China’s generous offer came along. Given China’s laxity with certain conditions, its no wonder why almost every big ticket government project funded by Chinese ODA has been the subject of allegations of graft and corruption. There’s Northrail, Cyber Education, the Fuhua agricultural projects, Southrail, and of course the ZTE National Broadband project.

Mr. Carandang makes a convincing case for high treason against GMA. Treason is used here in its broad sense of disloyalty to the nation.

Treason under Article 141 the Penal Code punishes “Any Filipino citizen who levies war against the Philippines or adheres to her enemies giving them aid or comfort within the Philippines or elsewhere”. This presupposes the existence of an actual war or hostilities involving the Philippines. But treason, as it is universally and commonly understood, is any act of betrayal of the country. This is what GMA has supposedly done. She appears to have sold the entire country, and generations to come, down the river.

Having sworn to uphold and protect the Constitution, she has likely delivered the country, or at least a significant part of the national patrimony, to a foreign power. This is treasonous conduct, by any measure.

We should all be outraged at this patent atrocity and the venal treachery of our national leaders. But we should also be very afraid. Getting into bed with a hungry dragon will not be a pleasant experience. And voracious China certainly is, accounting for 12% of all world energy consumption, and growing. The Kalayaan Islands is an irresistibly yummy dish which we just served up in a silver platter.

And its not as if we can just disengage any time we feel like it. To paraphrase an old Chinese proverb,

He who rides the dragon can never dismount.

Manolo Quezon tackles this subject extensively in his post on Today the Spratlys, Tomorrow Palawan.

the Youtube video on The Correspondents – Kung ‘di ukol, bubukol (ZTE-NBN)

and the rest of the video on The Correspondents – Kung ‘di ukol, bubukol (ZTE-NBN)

Part 2
Part 3
Part 4

The Inquirer reports on the details of the deal as revealed to former Senate President Franklin Drilon by Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez, then Chief Presidential Legal Counsel. Per Drilon, Gutierrez was aware that this could lead to GMA’s impeachment for culpable violation of the Constitution. The Department of Foreign Affairs also opposed the arrangement. The agreement was signed anyway.

Raul Pangalangan explains why the agreement is unconstitutional and tantamount to bartering our souls.

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