INDEED this often happens after a crime, when the gang members disagree among themselves, and they end up ratting on each other.
His shiny ego pricked by former Supreme Court justice Antonio Carpio’s thinly veiled criticism of him in his July 1, 2021 Philippine Daily Inquirer column, that he purportedly tried to block the filing of the arbitration case against China, former Solicitor General Florin Hilbay immediately hit back at Carpio the following day.
Inadvertently, he disclosed the real goal of the arbitration: To remove the Chinese blocking of certain oligarchs’ natural-gasextraction project in the disputed Reed Bank.
In a self-congratulatory, five-page document he posted in his Facebook wall, Hilbay revealed what I have been claiming in several past columns. It wasn’t patriotism that drove former foreign secretary Albert del Rosario and Carpio to propose and undertake vigorously the arbitration suit against China.
Rather, the arbitration was a form of “lawfare” – to use Carpio’s favorite term for it — to clear the way for the ambitious project of the Indonesian-owned First Pacific (with magnates Enrique Razon and Roberto Ongpin as minority investors) to extract gas in the Reed (Recto) Bank. It was really Carpio’s the biggest corporate lawyering job of his career.
The 14 other charges the Philippines lodged against China — such as the legality of its the nine-dash line claim and of its artificial islands, as well as its takeover of Scarborough Shoal – merely formed the elaborate smokescreen for what was essentially a lawfare to advance a business project.
The Chinese blocked at the Reed Bank the oligarchic triad’s survey ship Veritas Voyager in March 2011, claiming that the area was part of its Nansha archipelago that it claims sovereignty over. That stopped dead in the water the triad’s ambitious dream of becoming one of the region’s biggest energy conglomerates. A seismic survey done in 2006 – not entirely reliable, some say however – claimed that that particular area in the Recto Bank, called the Sampaguita Gas Field, has more gas than the Camago-Malampaya complex that has supplied one-fifth of the country’s energy needs since 2001.
Cleverly concealed in the suit’s 15 “submissions” to the arbitral tribunal, was its plea to declare China’s blocking of the First Pacific’s gas project as violative of United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (Unclos).
Del Rosario has been for most of his working life a close associate of First Pacific’s owner Anthoni Salim, and has been a director in the conglomerates’ biggest firms here such Philippine Long Distance Telephone Co., Metro Pacific Investment Corp., and Metro Pacific Tollways Corp., and even of the mother company First Pacific.
The conglomerate lobbied President Aquino to appoint del Rosario as foreign secretary to be in a commanding position to fool the foreign affairs department and the entire administration that the suit was about the Philippines’ patriotic fight against China to assert its rights.
Indeed, even before Aquino and del Rosario lost Scarborough in June 2012, Aquino had already launched his tirades against China. In his July 2011 State of the Nation Address, a speech usually reserved to discuss the country’s most important problems, Aquino instead talked about the blocking of the triad’s vessel: “What is ours is ours. We will defend Recto Bank as if it were Recto Avenue.” He even revealed in that speech his government’s move two years later: “We are already studying the possibility of elevating the case on the West Philippine Sea to the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea.”
It was Carpio, according to a book he commissioned, who was the brains of the arbitration suit. Either it was a foolish one, as any international law expert would have told him, or a brilliant move intended as a propaganda project, made with the aim – a colossal miscalculation it turns out – of making China buckle under international public opinion. The US also backed the suit, as it would help it in President Obama’s “Pivot to Asia” campaign, actually a plan to block China’s rise as a superpower in the region.
Carpio and the suit’s lead lawyer the Washington-based Paul Reichler calculated – very wrongly as things turned out — that rather than risking international embarrassment because of the arbitration, China’s leaders would agree to joint development of Recto Bank’s gas and oil resources.
Such joint development of course can only be undertaken by the First Pacific triad, as the Indonesian conglomerate’s subsidiary Forum Energy, had the sole authority given in February 2010, officially called Service Contract No. 72, to extract hydrocarbons in that specific area in the Recto Bank – thanks to Razon’s lobbying power with the Arroyo administration.
The need to pressure China to agree to a joint development scheme became more urgent when First Pacific CEO Manuel Pangilinan ate humble pie and went to Beijing in June 2012 and offered what was reportedly a very advantageous profit-sharing scheme with the China National Offshore Oil Corp. The firm rejected Pangilinan’s offer in a meeting that lasted only 15 minutes.
Hilbay in his angry retort to Carpio’s accusations in his column claimed that the American lead counsel Reichler, the former Supreme Court justice, and del Rosario were a faction that pushed for the joint development scheme, insisting that the Philippines should clearly send the message to China that it would agree to such an arrangement. Hilbay boasted that he successfully blocked that move.
Hilbay boasted in his Facebook post that he was even able to block a speech in the arbitration hearing that outrightly offered “a compromise by way of joint development.”
Carpio and del Rosario were pushing hard for a joint development as a compromise with China, since this would achieve the “Plan B” goal of the arbitration suit, for the First Pacific-led triad to be allowed by China to go ahead with their gas extraction project in the Reed Bank.
Indeed, after a hundred columns about China as a regional bully, Carpio suddenly became optimistic over a resolution of the dispute in his Nov. 5, 2020 column titled “SCS as zone of peace,” in which he praised to high heavens Duterte’s move that would eventually lead to a joint development of the Recto Bank by the two countries:
“The Philippines and China have already signed the memorandum of understanding and the terms of reference to jointly cooperate in exploiting the oil and gas in the West Philippines Sea. The missing element is the commercial agreement between China National Offshore Oil Corp. and Forum Energy on how they can partner to implement Service Contract 72 over Reed Bank, the site of the largest gas deposit of the Philippines in the West Philippine Sea. Once that commercial agreement is signed, and then vetted by Philippine and Chinese officials, the formula for a peaceful settlement of the intractable South China Sea maritime dispute would have been found.”
Isn’t it so obvious that for all his flag-waving and hysterical rants against China, Carpio was merely First Pacific’s counsel, who undertook a lawfare to get its gas project in the Recto Bank running again?
What is astonishing is that even as reality – that the arbitration was a hoax intended to pressure China to agree to joint development of the Recto Bank with a First Pacific project – stares him in the face, Hilbay still praises his boss the late President Aquino 3rd as being responsible for “our victory in the South China Sea.”
Hilbay’s is a classic case in which having invested in some project, which brought him fame, one refuses to accept the reality that the project was not just a failure, but a hoax that fooled him into believing that it was a patriotic venture.
Or a case of that kind of stupidity we often see in some nerds, photographic in memory and great with details but a moron in seeing the entire picture.
Why can’t Hilbay see that the arbitration was a huge deception. Among many other things, even if it ordered China out of the Spratlys (for argument’s sake, as it didn’t) and the superpower left the area, we won’t be able to occupy it.
The battle-hardened armies of Vietnam will rush in, as it also claims the archipelago, which they call Quần đảo Trường Sa, as much as China does. In fact, Vietnam is the biggest occupier of our Kalayaan Island Group, occupying 29 features there as against China’s seven reefs. I’m sure Carpio’s wife, a Vietnamese, had told him that.
Worse for us, the Vietnamese have proven that they are very willing to fight and have their soldiers killed, as happened in clashes with China in the Paracels in 1974 and Johnson Reef in 1988, losing more than 100 men in both battles. And if we fight with Vietnam, we certainly can’t cry to the world that we are being bullied by a superpower. Do we file an arbitration suit against Vietnam then?
However, as members of one gang have one tattoo, Carpio and Florin both have the “I-love-you-Noynoy-forever” marking. It is shocking for these supposedly intelligent lawyers to tell us that Aquino was the great leader behind the arbitration suit, with Carpio even claiming it as one that president’s enduring legacies.
C’mon guys, that’s too much. The reality is that the arbitration suit will go down in history as one of the biggest hoaxes foisted on the nation, and Aquino was a puppet that the triad of oligarchs led by the nose, who have led us to a total debacle. We were just lucky enough that we voted into power a new president with a disdain for oligarchs, and who saw through the deception.
Facebook: Rigoberto Tiglao
Book orders: www.rigobertotiglao.com/debunked