The Philippines is like a blind beggar sitting on a mountain of gold.
This was how a retired Philippine Air Force (PAF) officer describes what he believes is $26.3 million worth of oil deposits underneath the country’s territorial waters, particularly in the Reed Bank and Mischief Reef in the West Philippines Sea.
If tapped, the oil reserves will not only make the country stop importing crude oil but would become an exporter of oil products, according to the thesis of retired Brig. Gen. Eldon G. Nemenzo, a pilot and former deputy commander of the 3rd Air Division of the PAF based in Zamboanga City.
Nemenzo made the research when he took the advanced course at the Command and Staff College of the PAF in Villamor Air Base, Pasay City when he was still in the active service.
“The Philippines is like a blind beggar sitting on a mountain of gold. Within the country’s 200-mile Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) are potential recoverable hydrocarbon deposits worth an estimated $26.3 trillion. This is more than enough to lift the country from the centuries-long morass of poverty and under development,” Nemenzo said.
Nemenzo based his calculation from the recent discovery of oil reserves in the Sulu-Celebes Sea, which is within Philippine territory, and data 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.
Aside from oil, natural gas, minerals and polymetals such as gold, silver, iron and nickel are found under the sea. The Spratlys is also a rich fishing ground.
The Spratly issue has become a flashpoint following the discovery of oil underneath the sea in the 1970s.
The Philippines is claiming ownership of the Spratly islands, along with China, Taiwan, Brunei, Malaysia, and Vietnam.
Nemenzo stressed the need to modernize the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), particularly by acquiring multi-role fighters (MRF) equipped with modern weapons to patrol and defend the country’s airspace and sea lanes, which is more than twice as long as that of the United States.
He also cited the need for Filipino technocrats to be at the forefront in running joint cooperation between the Philippines and foreign companies in oil exploration in these areas.
“We should not be left in the dark in managing our resources,” Nemenzo said.
At this point in time, while the AFP has acquired recently new F50 jets from South Korea and a number of new helicopters and other armaments for its modernization program, it is still a far cry from the year back when the military had in its arsenal squadrons of F-5s, F-86, F-8 supersonic fighter planes, some 140 helicopters and a number of naval warships.
It is hoped that the 1995 AFP Modernization Program passed by Congress and signed by then President Fidel V. Ramos will be fully implemented during the term of President Rodrigo R. Duterte.
For 2018, the Duterte administration has set aside P25 billion for the acquisition of attack helicopters, tanks and other military hardware for the AFP modernization.
The Air Force badly needs MRFs armed with missiles, the Navy needs new warships and the Army needs tanks and other weapons. p: wjg