ASEAN Cooperation on Energy Security and the Philippines (2009-2015)

Locating the Philippines in the ASEAN’s Regional Coherence and Prospects for Attaining Energy Security

Aaron G. Laylo

To begin with, I would like to give a brief background on some empirical observations that called my attention for this study. By doing this, the reader can have an overview or preliminary outlook of the energy situation in the Philippines and the ASEAN in general. As of July-September 2011, world oil prices have inconsistent movement, moving up and down amid worries of improving demand, supply shortage from Libya, and the continued Euro Zone debt crisis.[i] Meanwhile in the Philippines, with the latest hike, the average pump prices in Metro Manila climbed to as follows: gasoline (unleaded), P55 per liter; diesel, P45 per liter and kerosene, P55 per liter.[ii] These prices, of course, may change in just a matter of days due to various considerations (world market prices, oil companies’ adjustments and the government’s regulation). But from these facts, one can assume and even ascertain that oil prices in the world market have direct impact on the oil-dependent domestic markets which would eventually affect economies. The Philippines, being an oil-dependent country has to manage varying skyrocketing of oil prices and search for alternative and sustainable sources of energy in order to fuel its vulnerable economy. Moreover, the Philippines’ (politico-economic) standing in the Southeast Asian region seems ambiguous and hazy due to its up-and-down economic performance in the last two decades.[iii] It is widely perceived by economists and technocrats alike that energy is closely linked to the economic dynamism of a certain country or region. Alarming as it may seem, the Philippines cannot be completely considered an exemption; for the very region where it is located also experienced energy security problems, and can still be considered vulnerable to energy demand instabilities.

Although much of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) have proven reserves of oil and natural gas (the primary energy source fueling the region’s industries) these resources are minimal and recent discoveries have so far failed to meet the populations’ consumption growth since 2008, especially oil (please see TABLE 1) and high demand in the[MR 21]  region. Despite the relative scarcity (compared to oil-rich regions of West Asia, Africa, and America) ASEAN countries have nonetheless abundant and diverse reserves of other energy sources such as natural gas, coal, hydrothermal, geothermal, and biofuels (please see Figure 1). For instance, the region as a whole holds close to 4% of total world proven natural gas reserves[iv] with Indonesia and Malaysia having the most significant reserves. As a result, ASEAN has become the fourth largest liquid natural gas (LNG) producer.  A major difficulty though is that these reserves tend to be located far away from the major centers of economic activity thus requiring substantial investment in infrastructure and transportation.[v] Another problem is that only a few countries are genuinely self-sufficient and have developed facilities. For instance, access to modern energy is limited in Myanmar and Cambodia, but is at 100 percent in Singapore.[vi]

Going back and zooming in on the case of the Philippines, are there reasons to be alarmed? How secure is the Philippines provided its ratio of energy reserves-production and supply-demand? Although proven natural gas reserves (please see TABLE 2) may be sufficient for the next 20 years since the operation of the Malampaya natural gas fields off Palawan island; and hydrothermal and geothermal energies have been tapped, as well as biofuels, there is still a need for exploring other alternatives in order to fully secure the energy concerns in the country. With the exception of the Malampaya project (considered as one of the most-foreign-invested project in the Philippines), potentials of other sources are yet to be fully developed. And these projects would also require significant amounts of investment in infrastructure and transportation. If these potentials would be transformed to realizations, energy supply in the country may be somehow more sufficient, and oil dependence may be lessened. This, if ever developed, can be a big boost to the economy. This can also sustain the demand for energy supply and consumption in the Philippines and ease the ease the dependence on petroleum importation especially oil (please see TABLE 3). In the meantime, energy sufficiency and management remain as challenges for the Philippine government in partnership with the private sector.

Now, let me cite a few relevant theories and concepts that can provide the reader an initial vista of the recent formal explanations that attempt to establish the phenomenon of regional cooperation, and other concepts that may be considered crucial in the analysis of energy concerns. The organization’s 40 years (established in 1967)[vii], have proven its progress as a regional economic and socio-cultural bloc that has grown into a core forum organization (tackling security, political, economic, socio-cultural issues) in East Asia and the Asia-Pacific regions. However, it is useful to remind ourselves that Asian regionalism as a distinctive field of study is remarkably new, and that until recently, it had remained largely atheoretical. Some Asian authors like Komori (2007) and Yoshimatsu (2006) argue that regionalization studies, those underpinned by institutionalist assumptions have made a number of important contributions to the study of Asian regional institutions.[viii] Apparently, international relations scholars would put regional definitions within the context of some IR approaches. For instance, rationalist thinkers view regional integration, or cooperation, as a process of pursuing mutual interests of the member states. They have also convincingly argued that “cooperation” is possible and that rational and self-interested actors can achieve stable and enduring cooperation and overcome collective action dilemmas (Keohane 1984).[1] Constructivist thinkers, on the other hand, view regionalism quite differently. Acharya (2009) examined the socializing effect of Asian regional institutions, using the theoretical and conceptual prism of constructivist approaches to international relations. Dirlik (1992) described the “Asia-Pacific idea” as somewhat a representation than reality: an artificial construct that rationalizes elite interests.[ix] Some political scientists would categorize the formation and development of the ASEAN under the English School, (Quayle, undated) which is akin to constructivism and one that also recognizes the formation of international societies sharing norms and practices.

Like, regionalism and institutionalism, cooperation as a concept in international studies only emerged in the twentieth century, especially during the post-war years (1950s-1980s), while energy security as a perspective has only become prominent in the 1970s, and especially in the 1990s when it was related to human security and closely linked to environmental sustainability. Cooperation has become a nebulous, vague, and elusive concept, challenging scholars to allot more attention in exploring what motivates states to cooperate, or in the first place, why do they need to cooperate? Energy security, on the other hand, is placed in the realm of the non-traditional security perspective. Along with food security, energy security may be considered an emergent concern in most states primarily because of the increasingly important role that they play in the wider economic security of a state. In the literature review part of this proposal, ASEAN energy security issues were also succinctly discussed in the following articles: The Asian Energy Predicament (Manning (2000), Reassessing Energy Security and the Trans-ASEAN Natural Gas Pipeline Network in Southeast Asia (Sovacool’s, 2009), and the ASEAN factsheet’s Ensuring Energy Security in the ASEAN (2008 and 2009) by the Public Affairs Office of the ASEAN Secretariat.  Much of the related theories, approaches, concepts, and perspectives will be further detailed in the paper’s review of related literature.

Regionalism, institutionalism, cooperation, and energy security are indeed prominent concepts in the study of international relations in recent times, although as stated earlier, these areas remain vast seas of inquiry yet to be explored farther. An examination of these concepts and application to the case of the ASEAN might be an interesting study yet a very challenging one. Therefore, this research would like to fill in the gaps in the study of ASEAN institutionalism and energy issues; research gaps include questions that look into what constitutes ASEAN cooperation on energy security, and how economic integration leads to energy security. It is usually assumed that there is a link between the two but how they are directly related remains an area to be explored. Another significant concern that I wish to raise in this paper is the fact that although the Philippines has diverse energy resources, it has however relatively less reserves of conventional energy supplies such as oil and natural gas compared to neighboring states Indonesia and Malaysia. If this is the case, a vital concern that should be addressed here is to search for the most plausible response of the Philippine government and its energy sector to ease oil supply dependence and sufficiently meet the increasing demands.

This research will begin with an overview of ASEAN regional cooperation on energy as explained in theories, concepts, and perspectives, look into the region’s energy conditions, and find areas for cooperation especially through economic integration. After laying the general context, this research will eventually locate the Philippines’ in the whole picture. In sum, the foci of this research proposal will be on the ASEAN Cooperation on Energy Security and on the Philippines’ involvement in the regional frameworks that exemplify serious efforts to respond to ASEAN challenges in attaining energy security.

[1] Risse, Thomas (2002). “Constructivism and International Institutions: Toward Conversations across Paradigms.” In Katznelson, Ira and Milner, Helen (eds) Political Science: The State of the Discipline, Washington DC: American Political Science Association, 2002, p605.

[i] OIL MONITOR. As of July 19, 2011. Department of Energy’s website:

[ii] Quismorio, Ellson. “Another oil price hike enforced” in Manila Bulletin. July 19, 2011.

[iii] As one of the founding member-states of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and an active participant in Southeast Asian affairs, the Philippines’ role in the ASEAN remains important. But it seems ironic that such enthusiastic and very participative member-state has for almost two decades observed as an economic laggard (except in the mid-1990s and mid-2000s, when significant growths were posted. With the sporadic energy crises that strike the region, its economy also has been adversely affected.

[iv] This is larger than US gas reserves and comparable to all South and Central America’s reserves (BP Statistical Review of World Energy 2009). Information borrowed from Nicolas’ article ASEAN Energy Cooperation: An Increasingly Daunting Challenge, September 2009).

[v] Nicolas, Francoise (2009). ASEAN Energy Cooperation: An Increasingly Daunting Challenge. Institut Francais des Relations Internationales.

[vi] Hanan Nugroho (2011). ASEAN energy cooperation: Facts and challenges. Jakarta.

[vii] Nine years after its formation, ASEAN formed the ASEAN Cooperation on Petroleum as a response to the oil crises that beset the world in the 1970s.

[viii] Acharya, Amitav (2011). Asian Regional Institutions and the Possibilities for Socializing the Behavior of States. Asian Development Bank. Manila, Philippines.

[ix] A. Dirlik (1992). The Asia-Pacific Idea: Reality and Representation in the Invention of a Regional Structure. Journal of World History. 3 (1). pp. 55–79.

 [MR 21]No need to say  “please” especially if there are just too many times that this has to be stated, just give the table and enclose in parenthesis.

For the complete copy of this article, please send the author a letter of request citing your intention to draw portions from the article, and promising to respect intellectual property rights. Thanks.


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