North Point

The framework for our foreign policy is found in Article II, Section 7 of the 1987 Constitution, which provides that the State shall pursue an independent foreign policy. In its relations with other states, the paramount consideration shall be national sovereignty, territorial integrity, national interest, and the right to self-determination.
Driven by our democratic ideals, core to our foreign policy is the promotion of economic prosperity, national security, and rule of law. These principles are currently being tested given the significant shift in the way our country is behaving in the international and diplomatic arena.
The recent visit of President Xi Jinping this Nov. 20 was heralded as a big step in forging a stronger strategic alliance as “good friends and neighbors.” This alliance shall presumably be crystallized in the areas of trade, security, energy development, and financial assistance.
About 30 agreements covering matters like oil and gas development, infrastructure cooperation, industrial parks, bridge construction, humanitarian cash assistance, agricultural cooperatives, dam projects, railway development, people-to-people exchanges, issuance of panda bonds and Renminbi-Philippine Peso foreign exchange trading market, among others, have been executed during President Xi’s visit.
Many of our government leaders hailed the results of the visit as extremely successful and mutually beneficial to both China and the Philippines. There are more pluses than minuses in this revitalized and dynamic relationship, according to most of our officials and observers.
The one that is getting a lot of keen interest is the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) on Oil and Gas Cooperation because the Palace was initially mum about what was exactly agreed upon. Many concerned players in the industry, businessmen, economists, and financial analysts are speculating about its effect on natural resource exploitation, the sharing formula in income derived, steps taken to stop the growing number of military and other installations in the disputed islands, and the wider diplomatic and legal implications for our victory in the South China Sea arbitration. Even our very own Foreign Secretary Teodoro “Teddy” Locsin issued a statement saying that the Philippines, and not China, should be drafting the oil and gas exploration agreement. And in the midst of numerous calls for transparency, the MOU has actually been made public recently.
Paranoia was doused with then-acting Chief Justice Antonio Carpio and former Foreign Secretary Albert Del Rosario giving assurances that there were no substantive, heavyweight, nor one-sided stipulations in said MOU. A cursory look at the text of the MOU shows that the two countries shall, in the future, negotiate on “arrangements to facilitate oil and gas exploration in relevant maritime areas consistent with applicable rules of international law.”
In fact, the context of the MOU made reference to the UN Charter, the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), and the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea. Most importantly, the inter-government joint steering committee (chaired by China and the Philippines’ Foreign and Energy Ministries) will liaise and work very closely with their respective working groups, which shall focus on a working area. For China, it is the CNOOC (China National Offshore Oil Corporation) and for the Philippines, the service contractors duly authorized with respect to their working area. Philippine National Oil Co.-Exploration Corp will be assigned to handle matters when there is no working area specifically designated. The active involvement of technically, professionally, and operationally competent personnel belonging to these service contractors is a good sign and a great starting point. In short, we are not sacrificing or giving anything away. At least, that’s according to the present MOU.
However, as rightfully stated by Justice Carpio, vigilance and close observation are key. We should always monitor developments to ensure that our sovereign rights over the exploitation of our rich natural resources are safeguarded. Furthermore, we need to consider other equally relevant issues like over-reliance on credit or monetary dole-outs to the point of sacrificing our interests. Or the entry of Chinese nationals, posing as tourists, who actually work as sales or retail personnel for Chinese enterprises or as construction workers for Chinese infrastructure projects, houses or condominiums where online gaming and other illegitimate business activities are conducted. Recently reported incidents of lack of alien employment permits or working visas for Chinese visitors have escalated. To the credit of Commissioner Jaime H. Morente of the Immigration Bureau, these illegal workers are now continuously and relentlessly being apprehended.
These cases of illicit employment are plainly disadvantageous to our nation, which has to take care of its huge number of unemployed citizens languishing in poverty.
And though we hear nice words and phrases like “collaboration,” “cooperation,” “friendship,” “and stronger ties,” all generic buzzwords in the art of international diplomacy, one should not forget the issues of the gutter — those which truly matter to the ordinary Filipino who continue to struggle for a better life.
Be it China, the USA, or some other advanced superpower, we should always primarily think about us. In each visit by the leaders of our rich neighbors, the paramount consideration must always be our own welfare. Any diplomatic treaty or agreement must be guided and molded by our country’s best interests.
Ariel F. Nepomuceno is a management consultant on strategy and investment.