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Palace mulls pursuit of oil exploration deal in Spratlys

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By Joel Guinto
First Posted 13:20:00 03/10/2008

MANILA, Philippines — (UPDATE) The government is studying whether it would pursue the controversial Joint Marines’ Seismic Undertaking on the disputed Spratly islands in the South China Sea with China and Vietnam, Malacañang officials said.

Chief Presidential Legal Counsel Sergio Apostol said Malacañang would form a team that would look into the exploration agreement. The team will be composed of himself, Justice Secretary Raul Gonzalez, Solicitor General Agnes Devanadera, and Government Corporate Counsel Alberto Agra.

Apostol told reporters that the study was made on the request of the Philippine National Oil Co.-Exploration Corp. (PNOC-EC), which is conducting the seismic study with counterpart firms from China and Vietnam.

Asked what prompted the study, Apostol said: “Because of the political noise.”

“We will review the contract to determine whether or not to continue with it,” Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita said in a separate interview with reporters.

Opposition lawmakers are seeking a legislative inquiry into the JMSU, amid allegations that the agreement softened the country’s claim on the Spratlys, and that the country entered into it in exchange for a multi-million-dollar loan package from China, including the botched ZTE Corp. contract for the national broadband project.

“[Those responsible for] political noise never considered this country, just as long as they can create noise, to them that is enough,” Apostol said.

Ermita said that the seismic study was within the Philippines exclusive economic zone, measured 200 nautical miles from the country’s baseline.

Apostol maintained that the JMSU did not violate the Constitution because it was limited to data gathering, not actual exploration.

Ermita also took a swipe at critics who were linking the Palace to alleged irregularities in the JMSU.

“Every time people write about it, as much as possible, they want to bring it to the doorstep of Malacañang,” he said.

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Written by joelguinto

MonUTC2008-03-10T12:23:39+00:00UTC03bUTCMon, 10 Mar 2008 12:23:39 +0000 22, 2006 at 12:45 pm03

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