JUSTICE Secretary Menardo I. Guevarra said on Thursday the memorandum of understanding (MOU) on possible cooperation on oil and gas exploration in the West Philippine Sea, signed during the recent Manila visit of Chinese President Xi Jinping, does not involve constitutional issues.
In an interview with reporters, Guevarra clarified that the MOU is a mere “expression of mutual desires” between the two countries to enter into an agreement; thus, it is not legally binding yet.
He immediately clarified that when he said that there is no constitutional issue involved in the MOU, it does not mean that he is making a declaration that it is constitutional or unconstitutional.
“I am not saying that the MOU is constitutional or unconstitutional.
What I am saying is there are no constitutional issues involved in a mere MOU because it is a mere expression of mutual desires to enter into some form of cooperative arrangements but that cooperative arrangements [have] yet to be negotiated and concluded,” the justice secretary explained.
Guevarra added that he does not even consider the MOU as an executive agreement, which somehow binds the two governments.
“So there is no need, you know, for a Senate review much less Senate concurrence, for something that is not a treaty at all,” the DOJ chief explained.
Guevarra made the statement in response to Senate President Pro Tempore Ralph G. Recto’s call for a legislative review of the MOU following concerns that it could compromise the country’s sovereignty or lead to a debt trap.
Recto had earlier expressed confidence the MOU—signed in Manila by Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. and Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi, and witnessed by Presidents Xi and Duterte—was off to a good start, following expressions of support by two of the most vocal critics of Chinese muscling in the South China Sea, Locsin’s predecessor Alberto del Rosario and Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio of the Supreme Court.
Meanwhile, the chairman of the Senate Economic Affairs Committee said on Thursday it was still the Senate’s “prerogative” to review any document, such as the Philippines-China MOU on energy cooperation, if it deemed it necessary.
Asked if senators would agree with the DOJ that there is no need for the Senate to review the terms of the oil and gas deal with China, Sen. Sherwin T. Gatchalia asserted, “It is the prerogative of the Senate to look into the oil and gas agreements or contracts with any country.” “This is in line with the check and balance mandate of the Senate,” Gatchalian told the BusinessMirror.
Sen. Francis N. Pangilinan also disputed the DOJ stand on the issue. “With respect, I disagree,” said Pangilinan.
Senate President Vicente C. Sotto III, however, took a different position, pointing out that the Senate’s review power does not include the oil and gas deal with China.
“It is not part of what is provided in Article VI of the Constitution,” the Senate leader said. “Not even in Article VII Sections 20 and 21,” Sotto added, referring to the provisions spelling out the powers of the Senate and the House of Representatives in conducting inquiries in aid of legislation.