Spratlys deal probe cancelled

PHILIPPINE NEWS SERVICE — THE congressional investigation into the controversial Joint Marine Seismic Undertakings agreement between the Philippines and China scheduled today has been cancelled, Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Antonio Cuenco said.

Cuenco explained that the committee decided to withdraw the notices to the members and resource persons due to technicalities. Under the rules, members of the committee should be notified three days before the schedule.

“The Committee on Rules only made the referral on Tuesday. We cannot have the investigation this week, so we decided to withdraw the notices,” Cuenco said.

The solon yesterday also revealed that the Chinese Charge d’ Affaires visited him to express his country’s concern over a bill that would define the sea boundaries of the Philippines which would cover the disputed Spratly group of islands.

The Chinese official echoed the sentiments expressed in a note verbale sent by Beijing to Manila which objected to the measure since it is “not conducive to the stability in the South China Sea” where the Spratlys is located. The Philippines and China are among countries that have laid claim to the islands.

Bayan Muna Rep. Teddy Casiño expressed disappointment over the decision of the committee to defer the hearing.

Casino said that the opposition is ready to ask resource persons Foreign Secretary Alberto Romulo and Philippine National Oil Corp. former president Eduardo Mañalac about the agreement and who ordered its signing.

Critics decried the JMSU as a sellout of Philippine interests and rights to the Spratly Islands. The Philippine government allegedly signed a tripartite agreement with China and Vietnam to conduct an oil exploration at the Spratlys or Kalayaan Group of Islands.

Meanwhile, Gabriela Rep. Liza Maza sees a cover-up by Malacañang in the supposed inquiry into the JMSU.

“This indicates attempts of Malacañang and its allies to cover up possible violations of the Constitution. That Malacañang adamantly refuses to bare the very basic details of the JMSU only gives the public much reason to speculate on the possibility that a sell out of patrimony may have indeed been committed by Mrs. Arroyo,” Maza said.

She dared the President to show the map, produce the contract and present the agreement to the public.

According to Cuenco, he will ask the consensus of the other members of the committee if the investigation could start after the Holy Week.

It was Deputy Minority Leader Roilo Golez and Camarines Sur Rep. Luis Villafuerte who initiated an investigation into the agreement.

“And I’m very upset that we’re not going to hold this hearing because we’re talking of national security and territorial integrity with respect to our archipelagic baselines,” Golez said in a text message.