DOE sorts out dilemmas on exploration at ‘conflict area’

By Myrna M. Velasco

The Department of Energy (DOE) is coordinating with the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) to sort out probable legal and diplomatic dilemmas on oil and gas exploration at the West Philippine Sea (WPS), which is largely perceived to be straddling part of the ‘conflict area’ in the country’s nautical jurisdictions.

In recent months, the energy department has opened the 60-day challenge period for at least three petroleum service contracts that are up for oil and gas exploration at the WPS.

Opening of bids were originally scheduled in May, but given the prevailing Enhanced Community Quarantine (ECQ) enforcement at that time, the process has been deferred to a time when the interested parties can already attend the physical opening of the offers.

The challenge on tenders had been set so that parties can match the offer of the original proponent – which is the tenet of “block nomination” scheme under the Philippine Conventional Energy Contracting Program.

Energy Secretary Alfonso G. Cusi said oil and gas exploration is one sphere of investment that he will perpetually push even in the midst of economic downsides precipitated by the coronavirus pandemic.

Relating to that direction of the department, Cusi said he is “working together with the DFA so that exploration activities in the West Philippine Sea could finally proceed.”

When he briefed the Regional Peace and Order Council of Region IV-B last week, where oil and gas-endowed Palawan is a part of, Cusi guaranteed that “exploration and development of resources within the area will not compromise the country’s sovereignty.”

The energy chief said “while we are protecting our territories, the DOE is trying to work together with the DFA on how we can continue exploration in the area.”

In the bid notices earlier issued by the DOE’s Energy Resource Development Bureau, it just indicated that the three blocks under offer for petroleum exploration sprawls through areas within the West Philippine Sea; and not necessarily specified if these are within the territories being claimed by China.

Cusi told the MIMAROPA (Mindoro-Marinduque-Romblon-Palawan) Council that “we are doing this (oil exploration) without compromising our sovereignty,” while apprising them “that’s one thing we can assure you as we progress in our exploration on how to develop and utilize the resources there at the West Philippine Sea.”

He said the targeted continuous flow of capital in the upstream oil and gas sector is part of the government’s strategy to attain energy security so the Philippines wouldn’t be continually held hostage to the turbulence of global oil markets.