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'What am I supposed to do?' - Aquino to MVP on worries over UN arbitration bid

Businessman Manuel V. Pangilinan and President Benigno Aquino III (MVP photo by photo by Malacanang Photo Bureau)
The online news portal of TV5

MANILA, Philippines -- Stressing his responsibility to defend the country’s sovereignty, President Benigno Aquino III on Saturday said government’s decision to bring the dispute with China over territory in the West Philippine Sea before the United Nations Arbitral Tribunal is meant to protect the interests of all Filipinos.

Aquino, in a meeting with Filipino reporters in Davos, Switzerland where he attended the World Economic Forum, was responding to concerns raised earlier by businessman Manuel V. Pangilinan, who said Thursday that it may be more difficult to push through a plan to drill for gas at the Recto Bank after the territorial dispute was elevated to the UN tribunal.

“It has become more difficult because the issue is now not only on sovereignty. Because [the issue] was elevated to the UN, it has become a global issue,” Pangilinan said on the sidelines of a US-Philippines Society forum.

Forum Energy Plc, which is a unit of Philex Mining Corp., controls Service Contract 72, which covers the oil and gas exploration and development in the Sampaguita field of Recto Bank.

Pangilinan, who chairs Philex, told reporters Forum Energy would have to abide by the code of conduct set by the government.

“We simply have to follow what the government will say about exploration and development of resources there,” Pangilinan said. “We will just wait and see how things turn out, and get directions from the government.”

Earlier, Pangilinan also discussed a possible commercial deal with state-owned China National Offshore Oil Corp.

“With all due respect to Mr. Pangilinan, what am I supposed to do?” Aquino said at the meeting with the reporters, which was aired over state-owned Radyo ng Bayan. “If Mr. Pangilinan’s group enters into an arrangement that is ambivalent on whose laws apply, will (he) at some point in time, if they (Chinese) decide to ease him out of the equation, will (he) be as questioning of our actions?”

“So I think, we are protecting not only his (Pangilinan’s) rights, but we are protecting all the rights of all Filipinos, to exploitation of the resources within our exclusive -- I have to emphasize -- exclusive economic zone based on the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea,” Aquino added.

He explained that before deciding to submit the dispute to arbitration, he consulted the leaders of both chambers of Congress and also sought the views of former Presidents Fidel Ramos and Joseph Estrada on the matter.

“So we brought the matter before them, and there was unanimity. And I won’t exaggerate, but nobody objected to going into this arbitration mode. I think the choice is very, very clear… let the status quo remain,” Aquino said.

He said the recent harassment of Filipino fishing boats by Chinese vessels at Scarborough (Panatag) Shoal, which is also called Bajo de Masinloc, sealed his decision to seek arbitration.

Aquino said if the Philippines allows China to control Scarborough, it might embolden Beijing to assert its claim over Recto Bank.

Pangilinan also chairs TV5, of which is the online news portal.