Malacañang said that the Philippines is still open to jointly exploring the West Philippine Sea (WPS) with China after President Duterte lifted the moratorium on seismic as well as oil and gas drilling activities in the disputed waters.
In an interview with Super Radyo DZBB, presidential spokesman Harry Roque said that the Philippines already has a framework agreement with China about the joint exploration.
“Bukas po (We’re open to it),” he said Saturday.
“Sa katunayan po meron na tayong framework agreement kung saan nilatag natin kung paano tayo makikipagtutulungan sa joint exploration ng West Philippine Sea (In fact, we already have a framework agreement where we laid down the terms of our joint exploration at the West Philippine Sea),” he added.
In November 2018, the Philippines signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with China creating the framework for future negotiations on joint oil and gas exploration.
The MOU states that “in accordance with the principles of mutual respect, fairness and mutual benefit, flexibility and pragmatism and consensus, through equal and friendly consultation, the two governments have decided to negotiate on an accelerated basis arrangement to facilitate oil and gas exploration and exploitation in relevant maritime areas consistent with applicable rules of international law.”
It furthered that all negotiations “will be without prejudice to the respective legal positions of both governments.” It also does not “create rights or obligations under international or domestic law.”
The MOU, however, does not specify the maritime areas to be covered should a joint exploration pushes through.
Roque admitted that the Philippines needs the help of other countries if it wants to explore the potentials of the West Philippine Sea.
“Sa katunayan naman po, ang pagkakalap lalo na ng langis at natural gas sa ilalim ng karagatan ay napakamahal (The reality is getting oil and natural gas from under the sea is really expensive),” he said.
“Talaga naman kinakailangan nating makipag-cooperate doon sa mga kumpanya at mga bansa na may teknolohiya at sapat na capital (We really need to cooperate with companies and countries that have the technology and the capital),” he added.
In 2019, Philippine Ambassador to Russia Carlos Sorreta said that Russia was interested in exploring the West Philippine Sea for energy cooperation within Philippine laws. However, he said Russia had no intention to meddle in the Philippines’ sea dispute with China.
Roque refused to tell if Duterte’s decision to lift the moratorium issued during the Aquino administration in 2014 is a move to assert the country’s rights over the disputed waters.
He, however, said the President’s decision adheres to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).
“Sabihin na lang natin na nakasaad naman po ‘yan sa tratado (Let’s just say that it is allowed under the treaty),” he said.
“‘Yan din ay may basehan sa tinatawag na customary international law. So ‘yan po ay legal na karapatan ng ating bayan (It also has enough basis under the customary international law. So it is a legal right of our country),” he added.
According to Roque, UNCLOS allows a country to jointly explored a territory under its exclusive economic zone.
Last week, Energy Secretary Alfonso Cusi said that the Department of Energy has issued resume-to-work notices to service contractors doing petroleum-related activities in areas of Service Contracts (SCs) 59, 72, and 75.