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Oil exploration won’t hurt talks

Maria Romero

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The Department of Energy (DoE) on Monday clarified that the resumption of oil exploration activities in the West Philippine Sea (WPS) will not adversely affect the ongoing talks between Manila and Beijing on the joint cooperation on oil and gas development.

Energy chief Alfonso G. Cusi, in a Malacañang briefing, said that the green light from President Rodrigo Duterte to resume oil explorations in the disputed waters would pave the way for more interested companies to participate in the development project.

President Duterte’s decision to resume oil and gas explorations would not weaken the Philippines’ position in the maritime dispute in the WPS, Malacañang also said Monday.

Presidential spokesperson Secretary Harry Roque assured the public that the country’s decision to resume three energy projects in the area, including a joint exploration with Beijing, is part of the Philippines’ sovereign rights in the territory.

Sovereign rights enable the Philippines to exclusively fish and enjoy marine resources, such as oil and natural gas, in its 200-nautical mile exclusive economic zone in the WPS.

“Although sovereign right is defined as the exclusive right, that exclusive right may be shared with others. The decision to share it is part of sovereign rights,” Roque told reporters.

“Based on what I have read, the lifting of the moratorium on exploration activities has no adverse impact on our joint deal with China and our relationship with them,” Cusi said.

He added the president’s move was a “unilateral decision” and counterparts in China were not informed ahead of the announcement.

If China protests the order, the energy chief underscored that the Philippines will “stand up” for its rights.

Under the memorandum of understanding signed in 2018, both Chinese and Philippine governments agreed to establish an intergovernmental joint steering committee to look into possible energy cooperation.

The committee “will be responsible for negotiating and agreeing the cooperation arrangements in maritime areas to which they will apply and deciding the number of working groups to be established and for which part of the cooperation area each working group is established.”

Each working group that will look into a possible exploration deal between the Philippines and China “will consist of representatives from enterprises authorized by the two governments.”

Cusi said the lifting of the suspension will infuse the economy with fresh foreign direct investments and generates high-skills jobs, both of which are needed to boost economic recovery amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The lifting of the suspension places the service contractors under a legal obligation to put capital into the contract areas and hire Filipino engineers and technical workers to resume exploration,” he said.

The enterprises include the China National Offshore Oil Corporation and the Philippine National Oil Company-Exploration Corporation (PNOC-EC)

The DoE has already issued a “Resume-to-Work” notice to the Service Contractors doing petroleum-related activities in the areas of SC 59, 72 and 75 in the WPS.

SC 59 and 72 are operated by the PNOC-EC and Forum Ltd., respectively. Meanwhile, PXP Energy Corp. operates SC 75.

In 2015, the DoE suspended all drilling and exploration works in the WPS, particularly in the area covered by SC 72 in the Reed Bank, citing a force majeure as the site is the subject of a territorial dispute between the Philippines and China.

with MJ Blancaflor
and Elmer N. Manuel

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