Legislation pushed for WPS joint exploration

For the country’s sovereign rights to be guaranteed and protected in any joint exploration deal that it will enter into with other governments, including China, on the extraction of oil and gas resources at the West Philippine Sea, it has been proposed that such step must be duly underpinned by a legislation passed by the Philippine Congress.

The proposed law, according to Dr. Jay L. Batongbacal, associate dean of the University of the Philippines-College of Law, must ensure the “no prejudice” tenet, “because one of our biggest problems in entering into joint development agreements – it might be seen as acquiescence or acceptance of China’s claims or a waiver on our exclusive rights.”

He added “the legislation has to make it very clear that any action or agreement that we enter into like this – there’s really no prejudice in our position – it’s really more of a pragmatic measure, it has no legal impact.”

The UP law professor cited that in other countries, when their government enters into a deal with another State, “they often have special regulatory framework for each and every joint development projects – it’s basically another treaty which needs special legislation to implement that treaty.”

And since the Philippines is contemplating to sit down with the China panel again to pursue discussions on joint exploration of oil and gas resources at so-called disputed territories, then the country must “have that kind of legislative framework ready before we conclude joint exploration development with any other State.”

He argued development pacts between States are considered covenants among equals, therefore, the Philippines will need “important safeguard for us to make sure that we do not end up being seen as having given up any of our sovereign rights over our own resources in our territories and jurisdictions.”

Energy Undersecretary Felix William Fuentebella indicated in a virtual forum that it remains a deadlock

between China and Philippines on the proposed joint exploration framework at claimed territories within the West Philippine Sea.

Nevertheless, he noted that the Philippine legal team is currently preparing on strategy for another round of talks with Chinese counterparts, so the diplomatic row hamstringing targeted petroleum resource explorations in the West Philippine Sea could finally be resolved.

“The Philippine legal team is bound by the provisions of the Constitution, so we will have to find a way to have a joint beneficial agreement or terms for the two countries. At the end of the day, the Philippine team has to protect the interest of the Filipinos,” the energy official said.

He said forward negotiations on targeted joint exploration have to be deeply rooted on science and technical facets of the resources that can be extracted; and the resulting framework must serve as a lasting solution and one that can transcend government leaderships or administrations.

“We have to come up with studies whether it will end during the President’s term or it will go beyond – these policies should be apolitical and cannot just be swayed by ideology,” Fuentebella stressed.

Batongbacal further asserted the joint framework “must pay attention to technical details, there’s no need for it to be rushed…it needs to be a permanent solution and it should support long-term vision on working with another country that happens to be claiming part of our territory. So it must be firmly set, we can’t commit a mistake here.”

There are several petroleum blocks straddling West Philippine Sea that are currently placed on moratorium on their seismic and drilling schedules; and the government indicated a lifting of that order will only come once it can strike a deal with China that shall be mutually acceptable to both governments.