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Move unilateral but talks welcome

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President Rodrigo Duterte’s decision to lift the ban on oil exploration activities in the West Philippine Sea (WPS) was a unilateral move but the Philippine government is open to negotiations.

In a remote briefing, Department of Energy (DoE) Secretary Alfonso Cusi said while it was the Philippine government that solely decided on lifting the moratorium on seismic as well as oil and gas drilling activities at the disputed territory, activities in the West

Philippine Sea are expected to be exercised “freely.”

“This decision was done unilaterally… It is a unilateral decision by the Philippine government,” Cusi said.

The government made the move in “good faith and with full regard to the ongoing negotiations between the Philippines and China,” Cusi said in announcing the President’s approval on Thursday.

Cusi also stressed yesterday the lifting of the moratorium won’t hinder the joint development activities that the Philippines and China might agree on.

He admitted that the move which essentially lifted the force majeure declaration on the disputed area was anchored on the country’s apprehensions over the near-term resource exhaustion of the Malampaya natural gas field, the service contract for which will also expire in 2024.

Asked why it took the government time to lift the ban, the DoE chief explained that there were “many complications” that had to be addressed and clarified.

He added that the Philippines will “stand up” for its right in the event that China protests the resumption of petroleum activities in the region where claims overlap.

No effect on ties
Cusi reiterated that the government’s decision to lift the ban will not affect the ties between China and the Philippines.

“I cannot speak on behalf of China, but based on their pronouncements, we can do our activity freely as the country that has the economic rights,” Cusi said. “I don’t think it will negatively affect us.”

The Cabinet official also announced that there is still no definite timeline yet when the service contractors can resume their petroleum activities but “they will do it within the time frame allowed in their service contract.”

With the lifting of the ban, Cusi indicated the immediate beneficiaries would be the contractors such as China National Offshore Oil Corporation (CNOOC), the Udenna Energy Corp of Davao businessman Dennis Uy, state-run Philippine National Oil Company-Exploration Corp (PNOC-EC) as well as PXP Energy of businessman Manuel V. Pangilinan.

Malampaya state a worry

With the relaxed policy, CNOOC’s stalled partnership with PNOC-EC at Service Contract (SC) 57 in the northwest Palawan basin, can already advance as well as the tie-up of PNOC-EC with Spanish firm Repsol for SC 59 for a petroleum block in Southwest Palawan.

The President has approved the DoE’s recommendation to lift the suspension of petroleum activities in the disputed waters.

It also showed that a “resume-to-work” notice was issued by the DoE to SC doing petroleum-related activities in the areas covered by SC 59, 72, and 75.

Cusi earlier stressed that the resumption of exploration is vital for the country as there is already an impending depletion of the country’s natural gas reserves in Malampaya.

“It is the department’s position that there is an urgent imperative to resume exploration, development and production activities within our EEZ (exclusive economic zone) to ensure continuity of supply of indigenous resources in the country,” Cusi said.

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