By Genalyn D. Kabiling
Beijing, China — A special envoy of President Duterte is pushing for an oil and gas exploration project among the Philippines, China, and Vietnam in the disputed South China Sea amid the “promising” prospects for energy in the area.
Jose de Venecia Jr., the Philippines’ special envoy for intercultural dialogue, said the South China Sea could be converted into a “zone of friendship, commerce and development” instead of just being a source of conflict among the concerned parties.
“As members of the ASEAN family that today with China, we must find ways and means to jointly develop the areas’ hydrocarbons potential to help lessen our common dependence on distant petroleum sources in the Middle East,” the former Speaker said during Belt and Road Forum session on people-to-people connectivity on Sunday.
De Venecia said the scientists have discovered “promising” prospects for oil and energy following the seismic survey conducted by the three nations in the disputed areas in the Spratlys area.
The joint marine seismic undertaking among the Philippines, China and Vietnam was conducted back during the Arroyo administration in 2005. The three countries have overlapping claims in the South China Sea territory.
De Venecia claimed that he was among those who helped initiate the seismic survey to assess the areas for potential hydrocarbons exploration and development.
He insisted that there is a huge “potential for peace and for economic development” in the “heartland of the South China Sea.”
He said once rid of conflict, there could be a rise of landscape and seascape of small seaports, airports, oil pipelines, small tourism townships and fishing villages in the contested areas.
The disputed territory could become a “passageway for all global shipping” once it is “converted into a zone of friendship, commerce, navigation and development,” according to De Venecia.
The former Speaker’s proposal was made a week before the Philippines and China hold the first round of bilateral dialogue on managing the South China Sea dispute. The bilateral consultative mechanism, one of the agreements forged during Duterte’s visit to China last October, will be held next week on the sidelines of a regional summit in southwest China.
In a related development, the Department of Science and Technology (DOST) has urged local scientists, academicians, and researchers to conduct more scientific researches and studies on the country’s marine resources like the Benham Rise and high potential fishery resources to help the marginalized fishermen.
In a bulletin post by DOST, Secretary Fortunato de la Peña emphasized the importance of Benham Rise in the present administration’s thrust of reducing economic inequality through creation of more income opportunities coming from marine resources at the Visayas Regional Scientific Meeting (RSM) held recently in Cebu City.
Benham Rise is a seismically active undersea region estimated to cover an area of about 13 million hectares located east of Luzon and is 35 meters underwater with the shallowest point located off the provinces of Aurora and Isabela, the DOST said.
In April, 2012, the United Nations Convention of the Law of the Sea already recognized and officially approved the Philippines’ claim on Benham Rise as part of its continental shelf and territory. Based on initial studies Benham Rise is rich in mineral, oil and gas deposits like solidified methane that could help the country achieve self-sufficiency in energy, the Science agency added.
“The Department of Science and Technology is focusing on strengthening research and development (R&D) initiatives in various fields including the fisheries sector because this will provide more opportunities for our marginalized fishermen in the regions and will help them uplift their economic condition,” Dela Pena said before at least 300 delegates. (With a report from Martin A. Sadongdong)