Pointless to speculate which of the two pro-China presidents promised to remove BRP Sierra Madre from Ayungin Shoal. Ferdinand Marcos Jr. already rescinded such a deal, if it existed at all.
Just drill oil and gas at Recto (Reed) Bank. Do it now, or suffer economic collapse.
Malampaya offshore gas field will dry up by next year; 2027 at the latest. It fuels 40 percent of Luzon’s electricity. With no replacement for Malampaya, Luzon will suffer daylong blackouts.
That’ll be disastrous. Factories, offices, shops, telecoms, trains, schools, hospitals, hotels, restaurants, cinemas, churches will close. No work or classes from home either. Foreign investors will leave. Jobs will vanish. Urbanites will flee to provinces for scarce food. Linked to Luzon, even Visayas’ power grid will be disrupted.
Recto has proven reserves. In 2013 the U.S. Energy Information Administration estimated it to hold 5.4 billion barrels of oil and 55.1 trillion cubic feet of gas. That’s 63.5 times more oil and 20.5 times more gas than Malampaya, whose lifespan is only 24 or so years.
“We’ve long known that,” says Benny Gan, retired petroleum geologist of the Dept. of Energy’s precursor, Office of Energy Affairs. In the 70’s OEA explored Recto’s Sampaguita field, only 250 feet deep. “It’s the main study in a roomful of reports, photos, and videos.”
Recto is 120 miles from Palawan, well within the Philippines’ 200-mile exclusive economic zone. It’s 650 miles from Hainan, China’s nearest province, thus outside its EEZ. The Hague Arbitral Court affirmed that in 2016. China can’t claim it by imagined “nine-dash line”.
Although China snubbed the hearings, it’s bound by The Hague ruling under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea. Its state-owned China National Offshore Oil Corp. (CNOOC) has no right to drill there.
CNOOC cannot subcontract to private exploration firms, retired Supreme Court justice Antonio Carpio says. Shell, Occidental, and Exxon, among others, are bound by international law, so will shun CNOOC.
The Philippine government has long awarded Service Contract-72, covering Recto. Manuel V. Pangilinan’s PXP Energy Corp. and subsidiary Forum Energy Ltd. are ready to drill.
Trespassing the Philippine EEZ, Chinese gunboats chased Forum’s vessels away several times. In 2020 the Duterte admin contemplated joint exploration with CNOOC. Talks failed as CNOOC’s terms violated the Philippine Constitution.
The forum remobilized foreign partners to drill. President Rody Duterte stopped it after receiving a call from Beijing, Carpio recounts. “Twice Forum lost millions of pesos in false starts. Let it proceed now under Philippine Navy protection. National survival depends on it.”
Beijing anticipates drilling resumption. Its naval and coastguard ships, reinforced by maritime militia trawlers, are massing up at Del Pilar (Iroquois) Reef at Recto’s westside. Same at Escoda (Sabina) Shoal Eastside. It wants to drive away the beached BRP Sierra Madre from Ayungin (Second Thomas) Shoal inside Recto.
Defy China. “Let’s do it the way Malaysia and Indonesia did two years ago,” Carpio proposes.
Beijing also claims Malaysia’s EEZ and Indonesia’s Natuna Isles. Invoking our Hague ruling as support, Malaysia held naval exercises with the U.S. and Australia while drilling oil nearby. Indonesia invited a U.S. aircraft carrier to sail by while drilling in Natuna.
On both occasions, Beijing shrieked about owning the entire South China Sea by historical right. Kuala Lumpur and Jakarta ignored it. They’re reaping benefits from their petroleum resources, Carpio notes.
The Philippines can install rigs while holding drills with the U.S. Navy under the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement. As well, as with the British Admiralty because Forum was incorporated in London. A petroleum-sufficient Philippines will ease world demand and prices.
Beijing will avoid military confrontation, Carpio calculates. An attack on Filipino government vessels escorting Forum drillers will trigger the PH-U.S. Mutual Defense Treaty. China Communist Party’s National Congress and Politburo have decided to take control of SCS by intimidation, not war.
“Oil and gas from Recto will save our economy,” Carpio says. “Let Beijing howl. We’ll have our fuel. What better way to assert our EEZ sovereign rights!”
Sampaguita field can pump petroleum via a pipeline 150 kilometers northeast of Malampaya. The latter can in turn pump to Batangas in mainland Luzon via its existing 504-kilometer pipeline.
“If not for us circling Malampaya, China would have annexed it long ago,” a ranking PN officer confides. In 2020 a Chinese warship aimed weapons at a PN patrol there. “We’re ready to defend Recto too,” another admiral assures.
Upon operationalizing Sampaguita, other sovereignty measures can follow:
• Erect an Ayungin lighthouse to replace the disintegrating Sierra Madre. The 2002 ASEAN-China Declaration of Conduct among SCS disputants bars military buildup. A civilian lighthouse is allowable, says geopolitics expert Renato de Castro, Ph.D.
• Sue China for damages at The Hague or the International Tribunal for Law of the Sea. The Philippines and Forum can compute opportunities lost from China’s menacing since 2007, says international maritime lawyer Jay Batongbacal, Ph.D.
• Exact recompense for China’s fish poaching and destruction of reef resources, like rare metals and new medicines, at Escoda, Del Pilar, and Recto. Also, for concreting nearby Panganiban (Mischief) Reef into an island fortress since 1992.
The late foreign secretary Albert del Rosario had totaled it at $662 million per year. Assisting him, marine scientist Deo Florence Onda, Ph.D. calculated the wrecked resources at $353,429 per hectare per year, based on the 2012 Studies on Global Ecosystems by Dutch firm Elsevier, a world leader in scientific-technical-medical information.