THE Supreme Court has declared unconstitutional the 2005 joint exploration agreement between Philippines, Vietnam and China in the West Philippine Sea.
The agreement, which has already expired in July 2008, is a Joint Marine Seismic Undertaking (JSMU) between the China National Offshore Oil Corporation (CNOOC), Vietnam Oil and Gas Corporation (PETROVIETNAM), and Philippine National Oil Company (PNOC) involving an area in the disputed South China Sea covering 142,886 square kilometers.
The case stemmed from the petition filed in 2008 by former Bayan Muna Representatives Satur Ocampo and Teodoro Casiño.
Voting 12-2-1, the high court ruled that the “JSMU is unconstitutional as it allows wholly-owned foreign corporations to participate in the exploration of the country’s natural resources without observing the safeguards provided in Section 2, Article XII of the 1987 Constitution.”
The cited Constitutional provision in the ruling mandates that the exploration, development and utilization of the country’s natural resources shall be under the full control and supervision of the state.
The petitioners argued that the agreement violates the constitutional provision since it allows foreign corporations to participate in the exploration of the country’s petroleum resources.
However, the respondents claimed that since the agreement only involves “pre-exploration activities,” hence, Section 2, Article XII of the Constitution is not applicable.
But the high tribunal, in its ruling, held that the JSMU involves “exploration,” since it was executed for the purpose of determining if petroleum exists in the area.
“Such designation does not detract from the fact that the intent and aim of the agreement is to discover petroleum which is tantamount to ‘exploration,‟” the court ruled.
The decision was penned by Associate Justice Samuel Gaerlan.
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