ExxonMobil seeks Philippines military security for Sulu Sea site

Eric Watkins
OGJ Oil Diplomacy Editor

LOS ANGELES, Jan. 25 -- ExxonMobil E&P Philippines BV has signed an agreement with the Philippines for security assistance against potential attacks by terrorists or pirates at its SC 56 prospect in the Sulu Sea.

Under the agreement, the country’s Western Mindanao Command (WestMinCom) will provide assistance “for general security in the area during the course of the exploration activity.”

Last December, ExxonMobil and its partners said they discovered hydrocarbons with the deepwater Dabakan-1 wildcat in the Sulu Sea. Partners in SC 56 are operator ExxonMobil on 50% and Mitra Energy and BHP Billiton, each holding 25%.

"Logs taken at the Dabakan-1 well indicate that we encountered reservoir sands and hydrocarbons,” said Ian Fischer, ExxonMobil E&P Philippines managing director.

At the time, ExxonMobil also announced plans to drill a second exploration well in the South Sulu Sea where 2D and 3D seismic data identified several prospects, including Mojito, Caipirinha, Mescal Norte, and Mescal Sud.

Scott Spradlin, ExxonMobil operations officer, said military presence was needed in the project site since the company would drill the planned new well within the month.

WestMinCom Commander Lt. Gen. Ben D. Dolorfino said the Philippines military would deploy a surveillance aircraft and two patrol boats, each armed with antiaircraft weaponry and capable of carrying 100 Navy personnel.

Chief of Naval Forces Western Mindanao Rear Admiral Alexander Pama said ExxonMobil will provide logistics support such as fuel, oil, and lubricants while the Philippines military will provide the manpower and naval assets.

“It will be an equitable burden sharing as far as securing the area is concerned,” Pama said, adding “No cash involved.”

Dolorfino said since the firm’s exploration began 2 years ago the military has not received a single threat of sabotage from terrorist groups, including Abu Sayyaf and Jemaah Islamiyah (JI) militants known to be operating in southern Philippines.

But earlier this month, Dolorfino admitted that the Abu Sayyaf terrorist group remains a threat in southern Philippines despite continuous decline in its strength over the years.

Dolorfino said continuous military operations against the Abu Sayyaf have reduced the group’s strength, but that the group has been actively recruiting to replace its members who have died in battle.

"The center of gravity of our mission is to neutralize [the Abu Sayyaf] leaders,” said Dolorfino, who identified the leaders as Albader Parad, Abu Pula, Isnilon Hapilon, and Radullan Sahiron—all based in Sulu province.

Besides the Abu Sayyaf terrorists, the military is also reported to be hunting down 23 JI members, including Omar Patek, Dulmatin, Marwan, and Mawiya. JI was behind the Bali bombings a few years ago, and has been accused of other deadly attacks on civilians.

According to analyst BMI, the Philippines has experienced a number of terror attacks over the past decade, linked either to Muslim or Communist rebels. However, BMI said Manila has received “solid backing” from Washington which officially designates the Philippines a major non-NATO ally.

“This provision allows for increased military assistance to the Philippines and ensures that the country has access to external expertise in combating domestic insurgencies,” BMI said.

Last November, the US State Department warned that terrorist groups in the Philippines, such as the Abu Sayyaf, JI and others “have carried out bombings resulting in deaths, injuries and property damage.”

The US Department of State renewed its warning with a travel advisory, alerting US citizens “of the risks of travel to the southern Philippine islands of Mindanao and the Sulu Archipelago.”

It said that travelers should exercise “extreme caution if traveling in the central and western portions of the island of Mindanao, as well as in the islands of the Sulu Archipelago.”

Contact Eric Watkins at hippalus@yahoo.com.

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