Here's an exerpt of the Barry Wain article mentioned in the Inquirer, aptly entitled Manila's Bungle in the South China Sea:
Philippine President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo's hurried trip to China in late 2004 produced a major surprise. Among the raft of agreements ceremoniously signed by the two countries was one providing for their national oil companies to conduct a joint seismic study in the contentious South China Sea, a prospect that caused consternation in parts of Southeast Asia. Within six months, however, Vietnam, the harshest critic, dropped its objections and joined the venture, which went ahead on a tripartite basis and shrouded in secrecy.
In the absence of any progress towards solving complex territorial and jurisdictional disputes in the South China Sea, the concept of joint development is resonating stronger than ever. The idea is fairly simple: Shelve sovereignty claims temporarily and establish joint development zones to share the ocean's fish, hydrocarbon and other resources. The agreement between China, the Philippines and Vietnam, three of the six governments that have conflicting claims, is seen as a step in the right direction and a possible model for the future.
But as details of the undertaking emerge, it is beginning to look like anything but the way to go. For a start, the Philippine government has broken ranks with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, which was dealing with China as a bloc on the South China Sea issue. The Philippines also has made breathtaking concessions in agreeing to the area for study, including parts of its own continental shelf not even claimed by China and Vietnam. Through its actions, Manila has given a certain legitimacy to China's legally spurious "historic claim" to most of the South China Sea.
President Arroyo's agreement with China for a joint seismic study was controversial in several respects. By not consulting other Asean members beforehand, the Philippines abandoned the collective stance that was key to the group's success with China over the South China Sea. Ironically, it was Manila that first sought a united front and rallied Asean to confront China over its intrusion into Mischief Reef a decade earlier. Sold the idea by politicians with business links who have other deals going with the Chinese, Ms. Arroyo did not seek the views of her foreign ministry, Philippines officials say. By the time the foreign ministry heard about it and objected, it was too late, the officials say.
Not only do the details of the three-way agreement remain unknown, but almost nothing has been disclosed about progress on the seismic study, which should be completed in the next few months. Much will depend on the results and what the parties do next. Already, according to regional officials, China has approached Malaysia and Brunei separately, suggesting similar joint ventures. If it is confirmed that China has split Asean and the Southeast Asian claimants and won the right to jointly develop areas of the South China Sea it covets only by virtue of its "historic claim," Beijing will have scored a significant victory.
I have this article in full, if anyone's interested.