By Argyll Cyrus Geducos
HONG KONG — The Philippine government is keen on having the framework for the proposed joint oil and gas exploration with China on the disputed waters as soon as possible.
Department of Foreign Affairs Secretary (DFA) Alan Peter Cayetano made the statement days after the President Duterte’s bilateral meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping at the sidelines of the Boao Forum for Asia 2018 this week.
Cayetano, in a press briefing here, said that both leaders have given the green light for their countries to work on a framework for a joint exploration in the West Philippine Sea. He added that the topic was first raised by Xi.
“How important was that statement made by the two leaders? Very important because it’s basically the go signal to come up with a framework, and if it’s acceptable by both sides, we could see the joint exploration done soon,” Cayetano said.
“If our legal minds, the DFA, the Department of Energy, Malacañang, and some of our consultants can come up with a framework tomorrow, I will send that to the Chinese tomorrow. If they can send it back to us the next day, and they say they agree, then we can start drafting the MOU or the agreement, and vetting it for official okay,” he added.
But despite this, Cayetano said that the Philippines will not give up on its claims in the South China Sea. He also said that China has never asked the Philippines to give up on its claims.
“It’s important that we got something out of there. But you know, it was clear to both sides that we will stick to our guns,” he said.
He also said that pursuing with the joint exploration with China is the better option since the issue on the South China Sea is a complex one that evokes a lot of emotions.
“We will not make enemies. We are building friendship with everyone,” Cayetano said.
In his pre-departure speech Monday, President Duterte said that he may discuss the issue in the disputed South China Sea during his bilateral meeting with Xi if he feels that there is a need to.
“Well, it depends. If I think there is a need for me to raise the issue and if we intrude now into the business of exploration and development, I might say my piece also on that matter,” he said.
“Whether any other plans, no. I am into the business. I am not going into a war. We can postpone that war 100 years from now. In the meantime, I need the resources of my country to make the people comfortable,” he added.
Last month, Duterte welcomed China’s proposal to conduct joint explorations in the disputed waters. Malacañang later on confirmed that there are ongoing talks between Filipino and Chinese firms on possible joint exploration in Service Contracts (SCs) 57 and 72.
Duterte decided to set aside the issue on the disputed waters in order to build a better relationship with China. With this, the President was slammed for supposedly giving into China.
However, Duterte has repeatedly said that he will not surrender a single inch of Philippine territory to foreigners.