The Great Reed Bank Robbery

By Dean Dela Paz

With the war in Ukraine, and perhaps even the imminent control over Taiwan by Communist China, the issues of foreign policies and pivots crafted by Rodrigo Duterte, our energy security in view of debilitating oil prices, and our overall sovereignty have each wormed into the 2022 electoral discourse and for some, stand out as centerpieces among platforms offered the electorate.

These are very real election issues since two who currently lead in surveys for the highest positions declared an effective surrender our rights in place of what some describe as subservience if not brazen vassalage.

The recent headlines over China’s bullying and the acquiescence of our highest officials to the demands of the Chinese over Reed Bank (aka Recto Bank) paint us as a pathetic de facto vassal state. As counterpoints, through candidates among Leonor Robredo’s senatorial ticket, we quickly realize discourses on territorial integrity, exclusive economic zones and energy security are nothing new.

Disputes with Communist China are not matters for bilateral horse-trading but adjudicated undeniable rights over territory and exclusive zones. The position senatorial candidate Alex Lacson has taken reflects Robredo’s where the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) Hague ruling must indeed be honored.

Lacson and senatorial candidate Jose Manuel “Chel” Diokno have taken specific positions by focusing on the ignominious Malampaya sell-out. Both call for the abrogation of the sale to an inexperienced and technically unqualified start-up the 45% interest in the service contract covering the Malampaya offshore gas fields.

Diokno described in painful peso terms what the Malampaya sell-out had cost in terms of our squandered resilience to oil price spikes and runaway inflation. Unfortunately, like trapped rats, those complicit bared their incisors and instigated a PR demolition job against him.

Fortunately, Lacson and Diokno are joined by Senators Sherwin Gatchalian, Risa Hontiveros and Panfilo Lacson who co-authored a Senate resolution on the matter. Gatchalian had gone a step further and filed a graft case against those complicit and conspiratorial, while Alex Lacson, in addressing Chinese threats on Reed Bank, called for the abrogation of the Malampaya sell-out as a pre-condition to discussing other service contracts.

We tackled these before. China’s placing Reed Bank in their crosshairs refrain the playbook of bayong-hooded Makapili. It is amazing what thirty pieces of silver can buy.

There are the invasions, incursions, and foreign occupation in the Spratly’s. There are the artificial Chinese islands off Zambales. And then there is the Malampaya controversy the Senate hearings label as the largest of its kind in the history of Philippine corruption.

Thick demarcations were drawn in the sand. On one side, stand patriots. A posse of good men and women. Opposite stand, traitors.

Note discourses on the eleventh-hour attempt to rob and pillage Reed Bank.

Eighty nautical miles west of Palawan, Reed Bank is an oil and gas table far richer than Malampaya. For former National Security Adviser Roilo Golez, “China’s more important goal is the seizure of Recto Bank”. “Seizure” gives new meaning where the constitution provides against hocking national patrimony.

One tabloid bannered, “Beijing presses PH”. Arguing in Pilipino, Duterte invoked his “word of honor” promised to the Chinese. Last March 8, CNN Philippines reported that upon being told off “Duterte has reiterated that the Philippines must keep its word on the Recto Bank exploration deal with China to avoid conflict”. His exact words were “Pag-iniba ‘yan, delikado (dangerous)”.

The threat is obvious. Unfortunately such kowtowing disregards the fact that our constitution limits foreign involvement in exploration and extraction to financial or technical assistance.

Contra factum, non valet argumentum.

(Dean dela Paz is a former investment banker and a managing director of a New Jersey-based power company operating in the Philippines. He is the chairman of the board of a renewable energy company and is a retired Business Policy, Finance and Mathematics professor.)