The best defense is offense. China schemes to steal oil and gas in Recto Bank within the Philippine exclusive economic zone. To avert that, the Philippines must extract the fuel for itself.
It can be done; it has been done. Up to two years ago, China coveted Malaysia’s offshore petroleum. The latter held naval patrols with America and Australia while drilling for oil. Indonesia requested a US aircraft carrier sail by as it drilled as well in Natuna Isles that China was grabbing.
Beijing shrieked. Kuala Lumpur and Jakarta coolly recited portions of Manila’s 2016 arbitral victory at The Hague against Beijing’s illegal claim over the entire South China Sea.
“Now China is quiet, while Malaysia and Indonesia enjoy their oil,” notes former Supreme Court Justice Antonio Carpio. “We should also invite naval allies to joint exercises while we drill in Recto.”
Recto has proven reserves. In 2013, the US Energy Information Administration estimated it at 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, which will run out between 2024 and 2027.
National existence hangs on Recto replacing Malampaya. The latter fuels 40 percent of Luzon’s electricity. With no alternative, Luzon and parts of the Visayas will plunge into darkness.
Imagine the disaster. Water service, factories, offices, shops, telecoms, trains, schools, hospitals, hotels, diners, cinemas, and churches will close—no work or classes from home either. Foreign investors will leave. Jobs will vanish.
Recto is within the Philippines’ 200-mile EEZ a hundred miles from Palawan. It’s 650 miles from China’s southernmost province Hainan, thus outside its EEZ. The Hague Arbitral Court affirmed. China can’t claim it by imagined “nine-, ten- or 11-dash line.”
Although China snubbed the hearings, it’s bound by The Hague verdict under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea. Its state-owned China National Offshore Oil Corp. has no right to drill there.
CNOOC cannot subcontract to private exploration firms, says Carpio. Shell, Occidental, and Exxon, among others, are bound by international law, so will shun CNOOC.
Manila discovered gas in Recto’s Sampaguita fields in 1976. Three wells at 250 feet proved productive. The government awarded Service Contract-72 in 2002. Britain’s Forum Energy took interest in 2005. China repeatedly menaced its survey vessels.
Filipino magnate Manuel V. Pangilinan bought Forum to extract petroleum once and for all. Twice the Duterte admin delayed him to let CNOOC in, only to realize that the Chinese-state firm was only dribbling the ball. The Philippines also ran out of time.
Recto Petroleum is why China strives to dislodge BRP Sierra Madre from Ayungin Shoal. Ayungin (international name: Second Thomas) is at the entrance of Recto (Reed). The Philippine Navy beached its vessel there in 1999 to counter China’s 1995 occupation of nearby Panganiban (Mischief) Reef.
China’s Communist Party has long been craving Recto. Despite posing China as an ancient civilization, the CCP acts uncivilized.
Sierra Madre’s dozen or so Marines need regular supply and rotation. China Coast Guard gunboats ram and water cannon Filipino wooden civilian bancas ferrying food and other basic needs. The latest barbarism was on Dec. 10, the 75th anniversary of the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
China’s coast guards report to CCP’s military commission. They shouldn’t be in Panganiban or anywhere in or near Ayungin, or Rozul (Iroquois) and Escoda (Sabina) Shoals in Recto’s west and east sides.
“We should repair Sierra Madre,” says international maritime lawyer Jay Batongbacal, Ph.D. But China bars it, so the World War II vintage ship and Filipino defenders would crash into the sea.
CCP mobilizes jingoist Chinese for aggression. Among the blockers of last Sunday’s Ayungin resupply were a Chinese cargo ship and two maritime militia trawlers.
The previous day, other militia trawlers assisted Chinese coast guards in water cannoning two Philippine government vessels near Panatag (Scarborough) Shoal. The Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources was only bringing fuel and food to Filipino catchers outside the shoal, which China grabbed in 2012.
On Tuesday, Dec. 5, Chinese cargo steel ship M/V Tai Hang rammed a Filipino wooden boat. The sun was bright at 4 p.m. and the sea calm when – Huang! One of the five Filipinos thrown overboard was able to video two Chinese crewmen on deck ascertaining the hit-and-run.
At Recto in June 2019, a Chinese militia trawler switched off its light and then rammed an anchored Filipino boat at midnight. It switched its light back on momentarily to check if the 26 Filipinos had fallen into the sea, then fled.
It’s time Filipinos took the offensive.
Jarius Bondoc is an award-winning Filipino journalist and author based in Manila. He writes opinion pieces for The Philippine Star and Pilipino Star Ngayon and hosts a radio program on DWIZ 882 every Saturday. Catch Sapol radio show, Saturdays, 8 to 10 a.m., DWIZ (882-AM).
The views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial stance of LiCAS News.