Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has lifted his predecessor’s ban on oil exploration in the West Philippine Sea, bringing the country one step closer to implementing a joint exploration deal with China.
Duterte’s shift to China policy enabled the signing of a memorandum of understanding between Manila and Beijing for a joint oil and gas exploration deal in the West Philippine Sea.
The administration of former President Benigno Aquino III suspended exploration and drilling activities in the disputed sea in 2014 amid tensions with China as the government awaited the result of the Hague ruling case.
In 2016, the tribunal ruled in the Philippines’ favor and against the “nine-dash line” under which China claimed almost the entire South China Sea.
But Rodrigo Duterte, Mr. Aquino’s successor, aligned the Philippines more closely with China at the US’s expense, his country’s traditional ally. In 2018, the Philippines signed a memorandum on joint exploration with China. But the proposed co-operation has not materialized.
Sen. Risa Hontiveros said she was cautiously optimistic about the President’s move. Still, they asserted that joint oil exploration should only begin after China acknowledges and abides by the ruling, recognizing the Philippines’ exclusive sovereign rights over its exclusive economic zone (EEZ) in the WPS.
President Duterte’s lift of the moratorium on oil exploration in the West Philippine Sea (WPS) would benefit the country. Still, the government must bar China from any joint venture to exploit mineral resources in the area until Beijing abides by the 2016 ruling of the Permanent Court of Arbitration, senators said yesterday.
The senator insists that China must recognize Hague Ruling before conducting any gas exploration in the Philippines’ Exclusive Economic Zone.
Meanwhile, the US has stepped up its support of Manila, pledging to back the country against Chinese harassment in waters where the UN tribunal declared that Beijing’s claims were illegal.
Former Foreign Secretary Albert Del Rosario said he supports a possible joint exploration deal with Beijing in the West Philippine Sea as long as its laws are followed.
Del Rosario made the statement after President Rodrigo Duterte approved the lifting of the moratorium on oil exploration in the country’s waters, including the Reed Bank, which China claims as part of its territory.
For as long as we pursue activities with China that is in accordance with Philippine law, this would be a step in the right direction towards a peaceful settlement of disputes,” he said.
Energy Secretary Alfonso Cusi said companies awarded contracts to explore oil and gas in three sprawling areas off the western Philippines. They were asked to resume their search operations, including in a potential oil- and a gas-rich region called Reed Bank.
An offshore gas field called Malampaya, which is closer to the western Philippine province of Palawan and supplies about 40 percent of the country’s northern Luzon region’s power needs, maybe depleted of its reserves soon, worrying Philippine officials.