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By Ben Cal
Philippines News Agency

The Philippines is “sitting on a mountain of gold,” with untapped hydrocarbon deposits estimated at $26.3 trillion, mostly found in the disputed Spratly chain of islands, more than enough to free the country from the shackles of poverty.

Brig. Gen. Eldon G. Nemenzo, deputy commander of the 3rd Air Division of the Philippine Air Force (PAF) based in Zamboanga City, made the discovery after researching on the amount of oil reserves of the country for his thesis when he took an advanced course at the Command and Staff College of the PAF in Villamor Air Base, Pasay City.

Interviewed by this writer last Saturday, Nemenzo confirmed the vast oil reserves of the Philippines in various parts of the archipelago, specifically the Reed Bank, the largest of them all, and the Mischief Reef in the Spratly Islands called by the Philippines as the Kalayaan Island Group (KIG).

“The Philippines is like a blind beggar sitting on a mountain of gold. Within the country’s 200-mile Exclu¬sive Economic Zone (EEZ) are potential recoverable hydrocarbon deposits worth an estimated US$26.3 trillion. More than enough to lift the country from the centuries long morass of poverty and underdevelopment,” Nemenzo said.

Nemenzo, an F-5 jet fighter pilot, said the amount of hydrocarbon de¬posits in the country could be more than $26.3 trillion following the recent discovery of oil reserves in the Sulu-Celebes Sea which is within Philippine territory.

“But no sensible foreign investor would come in, because the government cannot guarantee a climate of security to underwrite their invest¬ments,” he pointed out.

The data Nemenzo gathered was supported by findings from other sources, including a report by China’s Ministry of Geology and Mineral Resources, that the oil deposits in the Spratlys could reach 17.1 billion barrels.

This is more than the 13 billion barrels of oil deposits of Kuwait, one of the world’s top oil producers.

The Spratly issue has become a flashpoint following the discovery of oil underneath the sea in the ‘70s.

Tension has bubbled anew be¬tween the Philippines and China when Chinese fishing vessels were spotted at the Scarborough or Pana¬tag Shoal in the West Philippine Sea early this month.

The Philippines is claiming own¬ership of the Spratly islands, along with China, Taiwan, Brunei, Malaysia, and Vietnam.
In 1978, President Ferdinand E. Marcos issued Presidential Decree 1596 incorporating some islands of the Kalayaan to strengthen Philip¬pine claim over these mineral-rich islands.

Aside from oil, natural gas, min¬erals and polymetals such as gold, silver, iron and nickel are found under the sea - the Spratly is a rich fishing ground.

During the interview, Nemenzo stressed the need to modernize the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), particularly by acquiring multi-role fighters (MRF) to de¬fend the country’s airspace and sea lanes.

He also cited the need for Filipino technocrats to be at the forefront as managers in running business con¬glomerates entered into between the Philippines and foreign companies drilling for oil in the Philippines.

“We should not be left in the dark in managing our resources,” Nem¬enzo said.

Last April 8, eight Chinese fishing vessels were spotted by Philippine Navy ships anchored inside the Bajo de Masinloc (Panatag Shoal).

The Department of Foreign Af¬fairs (DFA) insists that Bajo de Masinloc “is an integral part of the Philippine territory. It is part of the Municipality of Masinloc, Province of Zambales. It is located 124 nauti¬cal miles west of Zambales and is within the 200 nautical-mile Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) and Philippine Continental Shelf.”

DFA said the presence of the Chinese vessels were detected by a Philippine Navy surveillance aircraft during a routine patrol.

Two days later, a Navy ship the BRP Gregorio del Pilar went to the area and found large amounts of il¬legally collected corals, giant clams and live sharks aboard the Chinese fishing boats.

Navy personnel boarded the ves¬sels but they did not confiscate the marine products since there were Chinese “fishing vessels” in the area.

DFA said that “the actions of the Chinese fishing vessels are a serious violation of the Philippines' sover¬eignty and maritime jurisdiction. The poaching of endangered marine re¬sources is in violation of the Fisheries Code and the Convention on Interna¬tional Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna (CITES)”

Bajo de Masinloc's chain of reefs and rocks is about 124 nautical miles from the nearest coast of Luzon and 472 NM from the nearest coast of China. It is also also within the 200 nautical-mile Exclusive Economic Zone and 200 NM Continental Shelf of the Philippines.

One of the earliest known and most accurate maps of the area, named Carta Hydrographical y Chorographica De Las Yslas Fil¬ipinas by Fr. Pedro Murillo Velarde, S.J., and published in 1734, included Bajo de Masinloc as part of Zam¬bales, according to the DFA.

In 1792, another map drawn by the Alejandro Malaspina expedition and published in 1808 in Madrid, Spain, also showed Bajo de Masin¬loc as part of Philippine territory,” it said. “This map showed the route of the Malaspina expedition to and around the shoal. It was reproduced in the Atlas of the 1939 Philippine Census.”

“The Mapa General, Islas Filipi¬nas, Observatorio de Manila pub¬lished in 1990 by the US Coast and Geodetic Survey, also included Bajo de Masinloc as part of the Philip¬pines,” the DFA said.

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