The Department of Energy (DOE) over the weekend said they are now studying the decision of the Supreme Court that invalidated the Tripartite Agreement on the Joint Seismic Undertaking (JSMU) in the Agreement Area in the South China Sea, after receiving the decision on Friday.
“The Department of Energy will study the Supreme Court decision and its implication. The DOE will work closely with the Solicitor General and the Department of Justice in determining the next steps to be taken on the matter,” Energy Undersecretary Alsssandro Sales said in a statement.
The DOE said that the decision, released in full on Friday, but was promulgated on January 10, 2023, saw the SC ruling as “unconstitutional,” the Tripartite Agreement for the Joint Seismic Undertaking (JSMU) in the Agreement Area in the South China Sea by and among China National Offshore Oil Corporation and Vietnam Oil and Gas Corporation and the Philippine National Oil Company (PNOC).
According to the Sales, the JMSU was signed on March 14, 2005, before incumbent Secretary of Enetgy Raphael Lotilla assumed office in his first tenure as Energy Secretary.
“The Philippine party to the JMSU was PNOC, represented by then PNOC President and CEO Eduardo Manalac,” he said.
The SC, in a full-court decision, nullified via a 12-2-1 vote, the deal involving an area in the South China Sea covering 142,886 square kilometers.
The court ruled that the JSMU is unconstitutional for “allowing wholly-owned foreign corporations to participate in the exploration of the country‟s natural resources without observing the safeguards” under Section 2, Article 12 of the 1987 Constitution.
The case stemmed from the original action for certiorari and prohibition assailing the constitutionality of the JMSU filed by the petitioners led by former Bayan Muna Representatives Satur Ocampo and Teodoro Casiño.
The constitutionality of the JMSU, which was signed on March 14, 2005, was assailed on the ground that it violated Section 2, Article 12 of the 1987 Constitution which mandates that the exploration, development, and utilization (EDU) of natural resources shall be under the full control and supervision of the state.
The petitioners argued that the JMSU was illegal as it allowed foreign corporations wholly-owned by China and Vietnam to undertake large- scale exploration of the country’s petroleum resources, in violation of the constitutional provision.
The respondents, on the other hand, maintained that provisions in the Constitution were inapplicable as the JMSU only involved pre-exploration activities.
The court, noting that the term “exploration” pertains to a search or discovery of something in both its ordinary or technical sense, ruled that the JMSU involves the exploration of the country’s natural resources, particularly petroleum.
Catherine R. Cueto