Authorities are already looking into reports that an alleged oil exploration equipment with Chinese markings on it was found by local fishermen in Pangasinan, a rare sighting which concerned stakeholders feared as a potential proof of China’s on-going drilling activities within the country’s 200-nautical mile exclusive economic zone (EEZ).
In a press briefing Wednesday, July 21, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said the device was already sent to the Department of Science and Technology (DOST) for an investigation.
“Hindi pa natin alam kung para saan iyon dahil nakuha ito ng mga mangingisda at dinala sa DOST para tignan kung para saan ang equipment na ‘yan (We don’t know yet what they are for because the fishermen found it and they brought it to the Department of Science and Technology to determine what’s the use of that equipment),” Lorenzana said.
However, maritime experts from the People’s Development Institute (PDI), a partner non-government organization (NGO) of fishermen’s group Bigkis ng Mangingisda, said the equipment was an ocean bottom seismometer or OBS.
An OBS is a measuring device used to record acoustic and seismic events under deep bodies of water such as oceans and lakes, and is “widely used in oil exploration,” according to the People’s Development Institute.
Lorenzana said they will wait for the results of the investigation being conducted by the DOST before they take the next course of actions relative to the discovery of the device.
“Until then we cannot conclude what they really are,” the Defense Chief said.
According to reports, the device was found some 129 nautical miles northwest of Infanta, Pangasinan last July 1. A group of fishermen reportedly saw the device while floating like a bouy and flashing a bright red light while they were catching fish.
The discovery was the latest development in the country’s territorial dispute with China.
It came months after Pres. Duterte warned that he will send military warships in the West Philippine Sea (WPS) if China starts drilling for oil within the country’s maritime territory.
“When we start to mine, when we start to get whatever it is in the bowels of the China Sea sa ating oil (in our oil), diyan na ako (then I will) [act]. Then by that time, I will send my gray ships there,” Duterte said on April 19.
This was not the first time that China was accused of conducting drilling activities in the Philippines’ territorial waters.
On April 8, China announced that it had conducted drilling activities deep in the South China Sea to obtain sediment core.
It did not specify in which part of South China Sea the activity occured but this raised concerns among lawmakers and activist groups that the East Asian giant might have done it in the West Philippine Sea.
Duterte has been pushing for a joint oil exploration activity with China in the WPS. In October 2020, he lifted the moratorium on oil exploration in the said area.
However, Sen. Risa Hontiveros, a staunch administration critic, had said that a joint oil exploration in the WPS will be beneficial for the country unless it is done with China.
“Unless China recognizes our victory in The Hague ruling, no negotiation on joint exploration would be productive,” she said on October 18.