By Genalyn Kabiling
BEIJING — The Philippines and China may complete the terms of reference of a possible joint oil and gas exploration deal this year, according to a Filipino diplomat.
“We are now in the stage of finalizing the terms of reference to implement the MOU (memorandum of understanding) so when that’s done, when that’s ready, the announcement will be made,” Philippine Ambassador to China Jose Santiago Sta. Romana said in an interview with reporters here.
Asked if the terms of reference can be finalized this year, Sta Romana said: “Oh yeah. Possibly within the (year).”
He said the proposed oil exploration deal with China was among those tackled in the recent bilateral consultation mechanism (BCM) on managing the South China Sea issue. “There are stages that we have to go through but it is moving forward. It was one of the topics in the BCM,” he said.
The Philippines and China signed a “Memorandum of Understanding on Cooperation on Oil and Gas Development” during the visit of Chinese President Xi Jinping in the country last November.
Under the deal, the two governments agreed “to negotiate on an accelerated basis arrangements to facilitate oil and gas exploration and exploitation in relevant maritime areas consistent with applicable rules of international law.”
An inter-government joint steering committee, represented by both countries, will be established to negotiate the cooperation agreement and maritime areas for oil and gas exploration. The three-page document stated that the two sides aim to complete the energy deal within 12 months.
Some groups have expressed concern about the controversial oil exploration proposal with China amid a lingering dispute in the South China Sea.
Malacañang has assured the public that the government would ensure any oil exploration deal would be constitutional and beneficial to the nation.