The Philippines is virtually sitting on a gold mine of untapped hydrocarbon deposits estimated at US$ 26.3 trillion, mostly found in the disputed Spratly chain of islands more than enough to free the country from the shackles of poverty.
Brig. Gen. Eldon G. Nemenzo, deputy commander of the 3rd Air Division of the Philippine Air Force (PAF) based in Zamboanga City, made the startling revelation after conducting a thorough research from various sources of the amount of oil reserves the country has as his thesis when he took an advance course at the Command and Staff College of the PAF in Villamor Air Base, Pasay City.
Nemenzo was interviewed by this writer last Saturday (April 21) wherein he confirmed the vast oil reserves of the Philippines in various parts of the archipelago, specifically the Reed Bank, the largest of them all, and the Mischief Reef in the Spratly Islands called by the Philippines as the Kalayaan Island Group (KIG).
“The Philippines is like a blind beggar sitting on a mountain of gold. Within the country’s 200-mile Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) are potential recoverable hydrocarbon deposits worth an estimated US$ 26.3 trillion. More than enough to lift the country from the centuries long morass of poverty and underdevelopment,” Nemenzo said.
However, Nemenzo, an F-5 jet fighter pilot, said that the amount of hydrocarbon deposits in the country could be more than the US$ 26.3 trillion with the recent discovery of oil reserves in the Sulu-Celebes Sea which is within Philippine territory.
“But no sensible foreign investor would come in, because the government cannot guarantee a climate of security to underwrite their investments,” he pointed out.
The data culled by Nemenzo were supported by the findings from other sources that the oil deposits in the Spratly’s could reach 17.1 billion barrels of oil as attested by a report made by China’s Ministry of Geology and Mineral Resources.
This is more than the 13 billion barrels of oil deposits of Kuwait, one of the world’s top producing oil nations.
The Spratly issue has become a flashpoint following the discovery of oil underneath the sea in the ‘70s.
But tension erupted anew between the Philippines and China when Chinese fishing vessels were spotted at the Scarborough or Panatag Shoal in the West Philippine Sea early this month.
The Philippines protested China over the incident which had resulted into a standoff to date.
Six countries, including the Philippines, are claiming ownership over the Spratly islands. The five others are China, Taiwan, Brunei, Malaysia, and Vietnam who are claiming the islands in whole or in part.
It may be recalled that in 1978, then President Ferdinand E. Marcos issued Presidential Decree 1596 incorporating some islands of the KIG to strengthen Philippines’ claim over these mineral rich islands.
Aside from oil, natural gas, minerals and polymetals — such as gold, silver, iron and nickel are found beneath the sea – the Spratly is a rich fishing ground.
This writer visited KIG in 1979 and saw the abundance of fish in the area that Philippine Marines stationed at Pagasa Island caught fish just a few feet from the shorelines.
During the interview, Nemenzo stressed the need for the modernization of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), particularly the acquisition of multi-role fighters (MRF), to defend the country’s airspace and sea lanes.
He also cited the need for Filipino technocrats to be at the forefront as managers in running business conglomerates entered into between the Philippines and foreign companies conducting oil explorations in the Philippines.
“We should not be left in the dark in managing our resources,” Nemenzo said.
Nemenzo said that the raging Spratly imbroglio boils down to the huge vast mineral resources, particularly the billions of barrels of untapped oil underneath the sea.
The Spratly issue is again in the limelight after eight Chinese fishing vessels were spotted anchored inside the Bajo de Masinloc (Panatag Shoal) also known as Scarborough on April 8, 2012.
In a statement, the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) said that “Bajo de Masinloc is an integral part of the Philippine territory. It is part of the Municipality of Masinloc, Province of Zambales. It is located 124 nautical miles west of Zambales and is within the 200 nautical-mile Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) and Philippine Continental Shelf.”
DFA said the presence of the Chinese fishing vessels were detected by a Philippine Navy surveillance aircraft conducting routine patrol over the area which is within Philippine territory.
Two days later, a Philippine Navy ship the BRP Gregorio del Pilar went to the area and found large amounts of illegally collected corals, giant clams and live sharks aboard the Chinese fishing vessels.
Navy personnel boarded the fishing vessels but they did not confiscate the illegally collected marine products as there were Chinese “fishing vessels” in the area.
DFA said that “the actions of the Chinese fishing vessels are a serious violation of the Philippines’ sovereignty and maritime jurisdiction. The poaching of endangered marine resources is in violation of the Fisheries Code and the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna (CITES)”
It cited the basis of Philippine sovereignty over Bajo de Masinloc and the waters within its vicinity, saying that “Bajo de Masinloc (Scarborough Shoal) is not an island.
Bajo de Masinloc is also not part of the Spratlys.”
DFA said “Bajo de Masinloc is a ring-shaped coral reef, which has several rocks encircling a lagoon. About five of these rocks are above water during high tide. Of these five rocks, some are about 3 meters high above water. The rest of the rocks and reefs are below water during high tide.
Bajo de Masinloc’s (Scarborough Shoal’s) chain of reefs and rocks is about 124 NM from the nearest coast of Luzon and approximately 472 NM from the nearest coast of China. Bajo de Masinloc is located approximately along latitude 15⁰08’N and longitude 117⁰45’E. The rocks of Bajo de Masinloc are situated north of the Spratlys,” adding that “obviously therefore, the rocks of Bajo de Masinloc is also within the 200 NM Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) and 200 NM Continental Shelf (CS) of the Philippines.”
“The Philippines exercises full sovereignty and jurisdiction over the rocks of Bajo de Masinloc, and sovereign rights over the waters and continental shelf where the said rock features of Bajo de Masinloc are situated,” DFA said.
DFA further explained that “the basis of Philippine sovereignty and jurisdiction over the rock features of Bajo de Masinloc is distinct from that of its sovereign rights over the larger body of water and continental shelf.”
At the same time, the DFA said that “the basis of Philippine sovereignty and jurisdiction over the rock features of Bajo de Masinloc is not premised on the cessation by Spain of the Philippine archipelago to the United States under the Treaty of Paris. The matter that the rock features of Bajo de Masinloc are not included or within the limits of the Treaty of Paris as alleged by China is therefore immaterial and of no consequence.
“Philippine sovereignty and jurisdiction over the rocks of Bajo de Masinloc is likewise not premised on proximity or the fact that the rocks are within its 200 NM EEZ or Continental Shelf (CS) under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). Although the Philippines necessarily exercise sovereign rights over its EEZ and CS, nonetheless, the reason why the rock features of Bajo de Masinloc are Philippine territories is anchored on other principles of public international law,” DFA said.
“As decided in a number of cases by international courts or tribunals, most notably the Palmas Island Case, a modality for acquiring territorial ownership over a piece of real estate is effective exercise of jurisdiction.
Indeed, in that particular case, sovereignty over the Palmas Island was adjudged in favor of the Netherlands on the basis of “effective exercise of jurisdiction” although the said island may have been historically discovered by Spain and historically ceded to the US in the Treaty of Paris.
“In the case of Bajo de Masinloc, the Philippines has exercised both effective occupation and effective jurisdiction over Bajo de Masinloc since its independence.
“The name Bajo de Masinloc (translated as “under Masinloc”) itself identifies the shoal as a particular political subdivision of the Philippine Province of Zambales, known as Masinloc.
“One of the earliest known and most accurate maps of the area, named Carta Hydrographical y Chorographica De Las Yslas Filipinas by Fr. Pedro Murillo Velarde, S.J., and published in 1734, included Bajo de Masinloc as part of Zambales.
“The name Bajo de Masinloc was a name given to the shoal by the Spanish colonizers. In 1792, another map drawn by the Alejandro Malaspina expedition and published in 1808 in Madrid, Spain, also showed Bajo de Masinloc as part of Philippine territory. This map showed the route of the Malaspina expedition to and around the shoal. It was reproduced in the Atlas of the 1939 Philippine Census.
“The Mapa General, Islas Filipinas, Observatorio de Manila published in 1990 by the US Coast and Geodetic Survey, also included Bajo de Masinloc as part of the Philippines.
“Philippine flags have been erected on some of the islets of the shoal, including a flag raised on an 8.3-meter high flag pole in 1965 and another Philippine flag raised by Congressmen Roque Ablan and Jose Yap in 1997. In 1965, the Philippines also built and operated a small lighthouse in one of the islets in the Shoal. In 1992, the Philippine Navy rehabilitated the lighthouse and reported it to the International Maritime Organization for publication in the List of Lights (currently this lighthouse is not operational).” (PNA)