By Genalyn Kabiling
The government has vowed to ensure that any joint oil exploration deal with China in the West Philippine Sea must be beneficial to the Filipino nation.
Presidential Spokesman Salvador Panelo acknowledged that ensuring public interest was the “absolute” position of the government in discussing the proposed oil exploration agreement with the Asian neighbor.
“Basta ang position natin kung ano yung beneficial sa ating bansa, doon tayo. Yan ang absolute na position natin [Our position is that we would ensure what will be beneficial for the country. That’s our absolute position on this],” he said during a Palace press briefing.
Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. earlier announced the country has accepted the terms of reference proposed by China for a proposed joint oil exploration in the West Philippine Sea.
Locsin claimed that China’s version of the terms of reference was “superior to our own.” “Everything going well,” he tweeted.
Asked about the country’s “non-negotiable” conditions as well as the sharing arrangement in the oil deal, Panelo said he would defer to Locsin to address the matter.
He said the foreign affairs secretary was “more knowledgeable” about the proposed oil exploration arrangement with China. “That’s his territory. I would not want to preempt him,” he said.
When asked if the government was amenable to China having a bigger share in the oil resources, Panelo said he does not know and will let Locsin answer the issue. The two sides were probably still “talking” and “negotiating” about the proposed oil exploration deal, he added.
Panelo said he would still ask for a copy of the proposed oil arrangement between the Philippines and China.
Last month, the President revealed that China might no longer agree with the 60-40 sharing arrangement on the joint oil exploration with the Philippines. “They are willing now to share sana, 60-40. I do not think they will agree now,” Duterte said in an interview with reporters in Malacañang.
The Palace later said the two parties, being friends, could discuss the matter and settle any concerns about the oil exploration proposal.
In November 2018, 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.
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.