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Duterte remarks vs China won’t affect negotiations on joint exploration

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By Argyll Cyrus Geducos

Malacañang said that despite President Duterte’s recent remarks against China, the negotiations for the joint exploration between the two countries in the disputed West Philippine Sea will still continue.

Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque in a press briefing in Malacañang on April 20, 2018. (YANCY LIM/PRESIDENTIAL PHOTO / MANILA BULLETIN)

Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque (YANCY LIM/PRESIDENTIAL PHOTO / MANILA BULLETIN)

Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque made the statement after Duterte, in his recent speeches, called out China for warning the Philippines from entering the disputed area, and for unilaterally digging there.

The President had also warned of trouble if China will exploit by itself the resources in the disputed waters, particularly oil and uranium.

In his press briefing, Roque said that despite Duterte’s warning, the President’s stand on the West Philippine Sea does not change.

“He has never changed his tune. He has been consistent. It’s just that, there’s no point openly picking up a fight with China because that’s counterproductive,” Roque said Thursday.

“Again the position is we will not give up territory but we will now move on areas that we can agree upon, and maintain the status quo on areas that we cannot agree upon,” he added.

The Palace official also said that what Duterte’s statement will not affect the negotiations for the joint exploration between China and the Philippines in the West Philippine Sea.

“What we’re discussing is joint exploration, and he warned against unilateral exploration,” Roque said.

Earlier, Roque said that the the military is supporting the proposed joint exploration with China in the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone.

He also said that the agreement on the joint exploration may be signed before Chinese President Xi Jinping visits the country before the year ends.

“We’re moving towards a bilateral agreement that would enable the joint exploration to happen,” Roque had said.

“No time frame po. But of course, because of the impending visit of President Xi, I would say that it is anytime between now and visit of President Xi, but it was not expressly stated as such,” he added.

In March this year, Malacañang announced that Service Contract (SC) 57 and SC 72 are the areas where the joint exploration may take place. Roque earlier said that since SC 57 is under the Philippine EZ, China would have to comply with domestic laws.

“They will absolutely be subject to Philippine laws if it is [SC] 57. It would have to be the mining code. The domestic law of the Philippines will prevail over [SC] 57,” he had said.

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.

He also said that there would be no problem if the Philippines decides to allow China to jointly explore, exploit, and develop areas under the EEZ because the government holds the sovereign decision to do so.

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