MANILA – He may be the most flamboyant member of the Duterte Cabinet, but when it comes to legal knowhow, Presidential Spokesman and Chief Legal Counsel Salvador Panelo cannot hold a candle to Supreme Court Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio, who corrected him on what constitutes the country’s patrimony.
Carpio had warned earlier in the week that China could take the oil and gas reserves in Reed Bank if the Philippines failed to pay for the P3.6 billion that the Duterte administration is borrowing from China for the Chico River irrigation project.
Panelo said Carpio’s assessment was “misplaced” and that there was nothing wrong with offering the country’s wealth as collateral for the loan.
Not so, said Carpio who, on Tuesday, March 26, reminded Panelo that a 1972 law had declared the oil and gas in Reed Bank as patrimonial assets.
Patrimonial assets are defined as properties owned by the country that are not for public use, public service, or for development of national wealth.
Panelo had insisted that Carpio was wrong to air his warning because Reed Bank being a public property could not be given away, leased, or sold without an enabling law or a presidential proclamation. He added that President Duterte had not declared the area a patrimonial property.
Carpio said the Department of Energy had previously granted a service contract to Forum Energy to exploit the gas in Reed Bank as far back as 1972.
Carpio told media, “The law proclaims the oil and gas covered by a service contract as subject to sale to the market – which makes such oil and gas patrimonial.”
In signing the loan contract, the Duterte administration effectively allowed China to get as much of the oil and gas from the Philippine property in the event of foreclosure or forfeiture.
China had foreclosed on loans in Africa and taken control of assets and territory in the past.
Malaysian Prime Minister Dr. Mahathir Mohamed had seen the danger of loans from China with questionable terms and conditions, and he cancelled big ticket loans when he returned to power last year.
It was not the only incident where Panelo’s supposed legal opinions had gotten him in trouble.
Last week, the presidential spokesman said that the appointment of the late Senator Miriam Defensor-Santiago to the International Criminal Court (ICC) was actually null and void because the Philippines was technically never part of the ICC.
His argument was lambasted by lawyers who said that the Philippines withdrawing from the ICC was itself an acknowledgment that the country was in fact a member of the court in good standing.
A sibling of the late senator said that if she were alive, Defensor-Santiago would have “pulverized” Panelo in court.
Defensor-Santiago was a judge before becoming a Cabinet secretary and then later a senator. She ran for the presidency thrice, losing in a close contest to Fidel Ramos the first time she ran.
While she was the first Asian and female to be appointed as judge to the ICC, Defensor-Santiago never assumed the post, citing health problems. She died of cancer two years ago.