Three more companies are interested in venturing into oil and gas exploration in the West Philippine Sea, Energy Secretary Alfonso Cusi bared Monday.
According to Cusi, the Department of Energy has started to review the applications of the three potential energy investors following the government’s recent decision to resume oil and gas exploration in the West Philippine Sea.
President Duterte recently lifted the six-year-old moratorium on the oil exploration in the West Philippine Sea, paving the way for pending projects to resume.
With the lifting of the moratorium, the Energy department has given notice to the companies with petroleum service contracts numbers 54, 58, 59, 72, and 75 to resume their operations.
“Aside from the five, there are three applicants that DoE is now evaluating,” Cusi said during a Palace press briefing aired on State television. “I want to make it clear the lifting of the moratorium is for the entire area and not just for the five service contracts,” he added.
In line with government efforts to boost the country’s energy security, Cusi said the government is “open to all nationalities” who may be interested in exploring oil exploration.
He said the Energy department recently had the first round of Philippine Conventional Energy Contracting Program (PCEP) where predetermined and nominated areas for exploration were offered to investors.
“We’re open to all nationalities na mag-apply for (to apply for) service contracts at the West Philippine Sea,” he said. “Sa nominated areas, there were three companies that nominated that are presently under evaluation,” he added.
Cusi assured the public that the lifting of the moratorium on oil exploration in the West Philippine Sea is actually an “exercise of the country’s sovereign rights.”
It also does not weaken the country’s stance in the disputes in the territory, he added.
“This lifting of the moratorium is an exercise of our sovereign rights. Ginagawa na po natin iyan so (we were already doing it so there’s) no way it weakens the arbitral decision,” he said. “Our MoU (memorandum of understanding) to do the, to explore a joint development program or cooperation with China is in no way it weakens or giving away our sovereign rights,” he added.
Presidential spokesman Harry Roque backed Cusi’s argument on the country’s sovereign rights.
“Although sovereign rights is defined as the exclusive right, that exclusive right may be shared by others. The decision to share it is part of the sovereign rights and a sovereign decision as well,” he said in the same press briefing.
So far, Cusi said he has not seen any “adverse reaction” from China on the government’s unilateral decision to lift the moratorium on West Philippine Sea energy exploration. He noted that two nations continue to discuss a possible joint oil exploration deal.
“We had meetings late last year kaya nga lang po ay naantala ang pagsusulong nito dahil nga po dito sa pandemic (but it has been disrupted due to the pandemic),” he said.
He also cited the country’s relations with China have improved since the President took office in 2016.
“It has reached a new maturity. Mahusay po, it is based on mutual respect as countries and si Pangulong Duterte po naman ay ginagalang po rin ang Tsina (and President Duterte also respects China),” he said.
In case China protests the country’s move, Cusi said it will be done diplomatically.
“We have our obligation to respond accordingly,” he added.
In 2016, the Hague-based tribunal ruled on the South China Sea dispute in favor of the Philippines after it nullified China’s claim of historic rights over the area.
China has refused to recognize the ruling. Two years later, the Philippines and China inked a Memorandum of Understanding on Cooperation on Oil and Gas Development during the visit of Chinese President Xi Jinping in the country.
Cusi highlighted the benefits of the resumption of the oil and gas exploration, saying it will help enhance energy resources, revitalize the economy and generate job opportunities especially during the pandemic.
“It gives hope for all of us to find a new source of energy that would ensure our energy security in the future,” he said.
In the notice given to the five service contract holders to resume operations, Cusi noted that they have included their “work commitment” and the “investment commitment.”
“Magkakaroon po ng or employment opportunities para sa mga ordinaryong Juan ano po and it will help our economy to recover in this pandemic.”
“Aside from employment, there are investment requirements to these service contract holders ‘no. If I remember it right, these five service contract holders within the span siguro of five years, they need to put in something like – for exploration only, something like $80 million so that will help pump prime our economy,” he said.
The Aquino administration suspended the oil exploration activities in the disputed territory in 2014 amid escalating tension with China.