Spratlys dispute and the US gameplan vs China

First published on Blogwatch

By many indications, the United States will be stepping up its intervention in the Spratlys territorial dispute. Will that help diplomatically resolve the row among claimant countries? Certainly not. As it appears, the issue is essentially about the US tightening the noose around China – with the help of its Southeast Asian pawns.

Gunboat diplomacy

As if to rub salt to the wound, the US has initiated a naval exercise with the Philippines, Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand just near the contested territory in the South China Sea. Dubbed Southeast Asia Cooperation and Training (SEACAT), the exercise, which runs from June 14 to 24, supposedly “aims to promote regional coordination, information sharing and interoperability in a multilateral environment.”

SEACAT will be followed by another naval exercise between the US and the Philippines in the waters east of Palawan from June 28 to July 8. Two US destroyers will be coming to Sulu Sea as part of the exercise.

Isn’t this conspicuous display of seapower in a time of tension a glaring example of the US gunboat diplomacy? The US and allied SEA states may argue that the exercises have nothing to do with the Spratlys row. Yet obviously, such actions would tend to place China on a more aggressive stance whether they intended it or not.

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Walang kalayaan (Dr. Dominador Gomez)

Sinabihan tayo na ang Amerika ang ina ng demokrasya, pero natatakot ang gubyernong Amerikano na makipag-usap sa mga taong naghahangad ng demokrasya. Sabi ng mga Amerikano na sila’y para sa kalayaan, pero bakit nais nilang kitlin ang ating kalayaan sa pamamagitan ng paghaharap ng nakaumang na mga bayoneta?

– Bahagi ng talumpati ni Dr. Dominador Gomez, lider-aktibista sa kilusang paggawa, sa demonstrasyon  ng mahigit 100,000 manggagawa noong Mayo 1, 1903 sa harap ng Malakanyang. Sa panahong ito, si Gomez ang presidente ng Union Obrera Democratica de Filipinas (UODF), isa sa mga pinaka-unang pederasyon ng militanteng kilusang manggagawa.

Why Exxon Mobil et. al. are sea rapists

(My contribution to the June 8 Blog Action Day to Save Philippine Seas)

While scouring for black gold in our waters, the world’s biggest oil company could be destroying millions of sea creatures in the Sulu Sea.

A consortium led by US-based Exxon Mobil has been conducting oil and gas exploration and drilling operations within Service Contract 56 (SC 56), a 862,000-hectare area in the southern Philippine waters. The area being surveyed and drilled is around 13 times the size of the entire National Capital Region!

(click the image to enlarge) Source: Department of Energy (DOE)

To date, Exxon Mobil along with Mitra and BPHP Biliton have conducted four drilling operations in the resource-rich Sulu Sea since 2009, spending around $100 million for each drilling operation. The consortium finished its fourth drilling operation south of Sulu Sea in October last year, digging 4,531 meters beneath the sea floor. To put it more horribly, the depth of the fourth drilling equals the height of around 17 PBCom Towers put on top of each other (PBCom Tower in Makati City is the tallest finished building in the country). Worse, the area being drilled by the oil consortium includes the Sandakan Basin, home to the world-renowned Tubbataha Reef that was declared by UNESCO as a world heritage site.

Oil drilling is very environmentally costly as it entails tampering with the marine ecosystem. From the surveying of the waters to installation of drilling structures up to the potential oil spills, the presence of oil companies in the waters pose an irreversible environmental disaster. We can just imagine the diverse aquatic life – up to the ocean’s abysmal depths – being disturbed by every drilling operation.

Sadly, the consortium has been adept in orchestrating a media blackout on their operations in the Sulu Sea. Up to now, we cannot size up the potential environmental havoc it has caused since no media organization has so far dared to report on it. This is not surprising considering that Exxon Mobil has the financial muscle to silence reportage.

What is clear is that the Department of Energy under the Arroyo administration granted Exxon Mobil and its partners the license to exploit the Sulu Sea under SC 56. And the most terrible part is that the national government is incentivizing oil exploration and drilling! Under Presidential Decree 87, petroleum service contractors carrying out oil exploration enjoy exemption from all taxes (except income tax), cost reimbursements, among others.

There are dozens more active service contracts in the Philippine waters. And these are glaring cases of rape of our seas, and yet not much has been reported on these oil exploration activities in our territory.

Perhaps the problem is that the rape is licensed, if you would call it that way. Time to pressure the government to stop oil exploration activities! Time to save our precious seas!