By Argyll Cyrus Geducos
Malacañang said there would be no problem if the Philippine government decides to allow a joint exploration with China on areas falling under the exclusive economic zone (EEZ) of the Philippines.
Presidential spokesperson Harry Roque made the statement a day after he confirmed that there are talks ongoing between Filipino and Chinese corporations to conduct a joint exploration in the disputed South China Sea.
Roque, in a press briefing in Paniqui, Tarlac today, said the Philippines can allow any country to hold a joint exploration in its EEZ because it holds the sovereign decision to do so.
“Exclusive economic zone refers to exclusive right to explore and exploit, but it is your sovereign decision kung gusto mong magkaroon ng joint exploration (if you want to have a joint exploration there),” Roque said this afternoon.
According to Roque, there are two areas being considered for the joint exploration, namely Service Contracts (SCs) 57 and 72, which are both under the country’s EEZ.
The Palace official said there would be no problem in conducting the joint exploration in SC 57, however, the same is not the case for SC 72 as there is an ongoing dispute in the said area.
“Now ang alam ko, ang Service Contract 57, hindi po apektado yan ng any dispute. So, diyan po pwede magkaroon ng joint exploration (Now from what I know, SC 57 is not affected by any disputes so we can hold the joint exploration there),” Roque said.
“Ang problema po ‘yung 72 may dispute, so kinakailangan magkaroon muna ng kasundaan ng dalawang bansa bago po matuloy itong joint exploration na ito (The problem is there is there is a dispute in SC 72 so both countries need to have an agreement first before holding a joint exploration),” he added.
According to the Philippine National Oil Company (PNOC) SC 57 was awarded to PNOC Exploration Corporation (EC) on September 15, 2005. It covers a total area of 7,120 sq. km. in offshore Northwest Palawan and is situated around 50 kilometers northwest from the north-westernmost tip of Busuanga Island.
SC 72, on the other hand, was awarded to Sterling Energy Ltd in June 2002. It is located in the West Philippine Sea, west of Palawan Island and southwest of the Shell-operated Malampaya Gas Field. SC 72 covers 8,800 sq. km.
The Palace official reiterated that in case the joint exploration pushes through, it would be implemented by corporations and not by sovereign states.
On Wednesday evening, President Duterte welcomed China’s proposal of a joint exploration, saying it is better than to go to war against China where the Philippines will obviously lose.
“I will not go into a battle which I cannot win and the consequence will be a massacre of my soldiers. ‘Wag ngayon (not now),” Duterte said Wednesday.
“Tapos ngayon sabi nila, ‘Sige joint exploration na tayo.’ Kita mo. Eh, kung inasar ko noon, pinagpu-‘p*####g ina’ ko sila, walang nangyari (And now they are proposing a joint exploration. See? If I cursed them out before then we will reach nothing),” he added.
Roque today confirmed that Filipino and Chinese firms conducting a joint exploration in the disputed South China Sea is likely to happen as talks are moving forward.
“There are talks ongoing. I know they are discussing. They are moving forward and it’s likely to happen,” Roque said in an interview over ANC, adding that such agreement between private companies is allowed under Philippine law.
“This will now actually entail joint exploration and possible exploitation of natural resources,” he added.
But despite this development, Roque clarified that the Philippine government will not be recognizing China’s sovereign rights or sovereignty over the disputed areas, nor will the country be required to recognize such.
“Ownership is not material here because really the areas that may be subjected to joint development is EEZ – Exclusive Economic Zone where we only exercise sovereign rights,” Roque said today.
Roque said that doing a joint exploration with China is also a “practical solution” for Filipinos to utilize natural resources without having to deal with the contentious conflicting claims to territories.
The relationship between the Philippines and China, particularly in the area of trade and investment, has improved after Duterte decided not to antagonize the Asian giant over the maritime dispute in the South China Sea.