Graphic illustrating methane hydrate deposits (left). Methane hydrate
“flammable ice” (right) subjected to heat. Photos: Geology.com and
Canadian National Research Council
hough nothing Philippine president
Rodrigo Duterte has said or will say carries any shock value anymore,
his surprising announcement on May 19 caused seismic tremors.
At a Manila press conference on that day,
Pres. Duterte disclosed that while attending the “One Belt, One Road”
summit in Beijing on May 15, Chinese Premier China Xi Jinping warned him
that there would be war if the Philippines tried to enforce a United
Nations arbitration ruling and drill for oil in the West Philippine Sea.
Duterte said the warning came after he
told Xi of his country’s intention to drill for oil within its
territorial waters. "We intend to drill oil there, if it's yours, well,
that's your view, but my view is I can drill the oil, if there is some
inside the bowels of the earth, because it is ours," Duterte said.
Duterte reported that Xi replied: "We're
friends, we don't want to quarrel with you, we want to maintain the
presence of warm relationship, but if you force the issue, we'll go to
Go to war?
Duterte’s surprising disclosure of his
private conversation with Xi was likely made to allay charges that he
had gone soft on China and had refused to push China to comply with an
award last year by the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague,
which ruled unanimously in favor of the Philippines.
The Hague tribunal had dismissed China’s
claim to sovereignty over much of the South China Sea within the
so-called nine-dash line which covers 3 million included the coasts of
the Philippines, Vietnam, Brunei, Malaysia and Indonesia. It found that
China’s historical claims were negated and superseded by China’s
acceptance of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS)
which recognized each country’s 200-mile Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ).
Duterte is aware that the Malampaya oil
fields in Palawan, which supply the fuel requirements of Luzon’s natural
gas plants, will run out in 2024. He was also aware that a Philippine
company, PXP Energy, chaired by Manuel V. Pangilinan, had a Service
Contract to explore for oil in the Recto Bank, which is located 50 miles
from Palawan, and that PXP Energy had engaged in talks with China
National Offshore Oil Co., China’s state-owned oil producer, for a
possible commercial arrangement covering Recto Bank.
Before Duterte met with Xi, Pangilinan
had expressed optimism. “I think to the extent that the government has
adapted a more friendly, more conciliatory push to China, I think the
atmosphere has become better for a resumption of a discussion with China
in general. And we’d like to move in that direction,” he said.
Duterte may have believed that when he
informed Xi that the Philippines would drill for oil in the Recto Bank
that Xi would have been more receptive to the prospect of joint
Duterte seemed taken aback by Xi’s war
response. After all, when Duterte visited China on an official state
visit in October 2016, he announced his military and economic
“separation” from the U.S. declaring then that “America has lost now.
I’ve realigned myself in your ideological flow. And maybe I will also go
to Russia to talk to Putin and tell him that there are three of us
against the world: China, Philippines and Russia. It’s the only way.”
As recently as three weeks before Xi
threatened war, on April 29, 2017, at the opening of the Summit of the
Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) in Manila, Duterte told
reporters that the there was “no point” for ASEAN to protest Chinese
artificial island building in disputed areas of the South China Sea
because ASEAN was “helpless” to stop China.
“It cannot be an issue anymore. It’s
already there. What would be the purpose also of discussing it if you
cannot do anything,” Duterte said referring to China’s transformation of
reefs and shoals in areas of the sea claimed by the Philippines and
other nations into artificial islands, and installing military
Why did Xi threaten war against a new
China did not comment on Duterte’s
disclosure of Xi’s threat of war until four days later when China’s
spokesman described their conversation as merely part of their agreement
to “strengthen communication on important bilateral issues”. But the
spokesman did not deny Duterte’s account of the conversation.
Duterte’s new Secretary of Foreign
Affairs former Sen. Alan Peter Cayetano sought to downplay the meaning
of Xi’s threat, issuing a similar statement echoing China’s line. “The
conversation was very frank. There was mutual respect, there was mutual
trust. The context was not threatening each other, that we will go to
war. The context is how do we stabilize the region and how do we prevent
conflict,” Cayetano insisted.
So why did Xi issue his threat of war
against the Philippines?
The answer can found in a news article
that appeared in Mining News on May 18, 2017, the same week that Xi
issued his war threat. It was news that Xi knew before Xinhua released
it. The news was revealed in the title of the article: “China
successfully mines flammable ice from the South Sea”
“In a first for the country, engineers
extracted the gas from the so-called “flammable ice” – methane hydrate,
where the gas is trapped in ice crystals – and converted it to natural
gas in a single, continuous operation on a floating production platform.
After nearly two decades of research and
exploration, China has successfully mined so-called “flammable ice” in
what authorities qualify as a major breakthrough that may lead to a
global energy revolution.
The element, a kind of natural gas
hydrate, was discovered in the area in 2007, but this is the first time
the country is able to successfully extract combustible ice from the
seabed, in a single, continuous operation on a floating production
platform in the Shenhu area of the South China Sea, about 300km
southeast of Hong Kong, state-run Xinhua news agency reports.”
Methane hydrate global sources are
estimated to exceed the combined energy content of all other fossil
It turns out that China was not looking
to drill for oil but for a natural resource more valuable than oil.
Estimates of the South China Sea’s methane hydrate potential now range
as high as 150 billion cubic meters of natural gas equivalent,
sufficient to satisfy China’s entire energy consumption for at least 50
The commercial production of methane
hydrate would reduce China’s dependence on energy imports, which
accounts for nearly 60% of its crude oil needs, making it the world's
No. 2 importer by volume, after the U.S.
Methane hydrate will also aid China's
efforts to shift to natural gas from coal, which accounts for nearly 70%
of its primary-energy consumption, which has caused harmful pollution to
China’s continued economic prosperity
will depend on its successful extraction of methane hydrates in the
waters of Vietnam and the Philippines where China’s marine researchers
have discovered this mineral that will lead to a “global energy
This explains why China is aggressively
pursuing the occupation of Philippine and Vietnamese shoals and their
conversion to artificial islands in order to safely conduct their
exploration and production of methane hydrate in the territorial waters
of Vietnam and the Philippines.
The Sampaguita Field in the Recto Bank
(Reed Bank) area located only 50 miles west of the Philippine island of
Palawan is considered a methane hydrate “honey pot” which carries enough
of this precious resource to make the Philippines not only energy
self-sufficient for 1,000 years but can generate billions, if not
trillions, of dollars in revenue from its export.
Pres. Benigno Aquino Jr. may have
mistakenly believed that Recto Bank had oil and that there was enough of
it there to warn China in his State of the Nation Address (SONA) in July
2011 to back off any plans to invade it. “If you set foot in Recto Bank,
it will be as if you set foot on Recto Avenue,” he warned. “What’s ours
Magdalo partylist Rep. Gary Alejano
deplored Duterte’s admission that he is “powerless” to stop China. “This
is a defeatist narrative fitting squarely to what China wants us to
feel,” he said. He expressed hope that Duterte would show the same
resolve in defending national interest and territorial integrity “the
same way he treats his war on drugs in the country.
“He should be brave and face China
instead of killing his own countrymen (in his war on drugs). He must
remember that these illegal drugs also come from China,” Alejano said.
Alejano also warned of “any economic deal
or economic development to prosper in exchange to forfeiting our rights
over the disputed waters,” he said.
In his article “Rally to the flag”
published on July 27, 2012, former Local Governments Secretary Rafael
Alunan III proposed that Philippine “diplomacy should forge strong bonds
with the UN, ASEAN and friendly nations like Japan, South Korea and
Australia, in partnership with the United States to provide the back-up
muscle, to get China to back off and sincerely live up to its declared
"peaceful rise." Diplomacy must forge close security ties and supply
agreements at concessional terms during our build-up phase.”
“The US and Japanese militaries are
already more than a match for the Chinese which is the main reason why
China is resorting to bully tactics and bluffing with its civilian
maritime agencies so as not to provoke a military response from other
regional and global powers,” Rep. Alejano said.
Chinese fighter jets buzz US Navy destroyer as it conducts “freedon of
navigation” patrols in the South China Sea (left). Bay Area
Filipino-Americans demonstrate against China (right). Photos: US Navy
and Atty. Rodis
The day after Duterte disclosed Xi’s
threat, Philippine Supreme Court Justice Antonio Carpio urged the
Philippine government to sue China for threatening war against the
Philippines over the West Philippine Sea dispute.
Carpio wrote, "As a nation that under its
Constitution has renounced war as an instrument of national policy, the
Philippines' recourse is to bring China's threat of war to another
UNCLOS arbitral tribunal, to secure an order directing China to comply
with the ruling of the UNCLOS arbitral tribunal that declared the Reed
Bank part of Philippine EEZ."
Justice Carpio also urged the Philippine
government to bring China's threat to go to war before the United
Nations General Assembly by “sponsoring a resolution condemning China's
threat of war against the Philippines and demanding that China comply
with the ruling of the UNCLOS arbitral tribunal."
If the Philippines does not protest
China’s threat of war, it will mean that the Philippines is surrendering
its sovereignty to China. ."Acquiescence means the Philippines will lose
forever its EEZ in the West Philippine Sea to China," Justice Carpio
On the occasion of celebrating the 119th
anniversary of Philippine independence on June 12, Filipinos should
remember the meaning of the words in the Philippine National Anthem
first sung on that fateful day.
Land dear and holy,
Cradle of noble heroes,
Ne'er shall invaders
Trample thy sacred shore.
Rodel50@gmail.com or mail them to the Law Offices of Rodel Rodis at
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