President Rodrigo Duterte's special envoy for inter-cultural dialogue, Jose de Venecia Jr., on Monday said a joint drilling program in the South China Sea is the "most pragmatic, most practical" solution to the disputes in the area.
The former House Speaker said the joint development may be done in the area with several parties "because these areas are contested not just by the Philippines and China; it’s contested by everyone."
"Why are we willing to go to war, why will China be going to war, why will Taiwan be willing to go to war when we can have a commonsensical, practical, imaginative, pragmatic oil negotiation in the South China Sea where everyone participates?" he told ANC's Headstart.
"After all, these oil, these waters were given to us by God—it’s not owned by China, it’s not owned by the Philippines, it’s not owned by Taiwan, it’s not owned by Vietnam," he added.
Joint development in the area is "the most pragmatic, it’s the most practical, it’s the most commonsensical, and at the same time, it will put an end to all the tensions [therein]," said De Venecia.
He said governments like the Philippines, Taiwan, China, and Vietnam source their oil all the way from the United Arab Emirates, "when we have oil and gas right in our own front yard, in our own backyard."
De Venecia, who was a former president of the Petroleum Association of the Philippines and was the head of the House of Representatives under President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, said he proposed the idea as early as the 1970s.
In 2004, he said, he and Arroyo proposed it to then-Chinese President Hu Jintao, and forged the Joint Marine Seismic Undertaking with Vietnam and China agreeing to jointly explore the South China Sea.
The legality of the agreement is still pending before the Philippine Supreme Court, a fact that De Venecia lamented, noting that "we had total peace that time" and that no case was filed before any Chinese or Vietnamese court about the same pact.
Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio, who had previously refused to comment on the case pending before the tribunal, had pointed out that the Constitution prohibits the Duterte administration from inking a joint development with another state like China.
"Justice Carpio is correct. It’s a question of how the language of the agreement is contrived, how it is done," said De Venecia.
He said that in different parts of the world where countries have disputes with one other, joint developments of resources were also done, such as in the North Sea and the Caspian Sea.
"We have to have a common sensible understanding. We have a common drilling program—the contractor, who pays for the bill should have a larger part of the oil discovery," he said.
It is also "practical," he said, to contract a Chinese company for the job because "their oil drill ship will come only from Fujian or Hainan and our drill ship will come only from Palawan, which is nearby."
SETTING ASIDE THE ARBITRATION RULING?
De Venecia, who also made this proposal in front of world leaders at the Belt and Road Forum in China last month, said President Duterte's decision to set aside the Permanent Court of Arbitration's ruling, which invalidated China's historical claims in the South China Sea, is reasonable.
"If he sets aside the arbitral ruling, he must have had a reason. It means he’s planning to negotiate an agreement, whereby the Philippines will have a significant share of any oil discovery in the South China Sea. It’s a question of oil sharing," he said.
He added, the Department of Foreign Affairs, in issuing a moratorium for exploration, is "correct until an agreement is negotiated and completed because if you will drill without understanding or acquiescence from the other side, it could mean the beginning of hostilities."
While he acknowledged that the international court's ruling is "correct," the problem is China "did not submit itself to the jurisdiction of the tribunal."
"Nonetheless, it’s correct for everyone to say that with the decision of the international court, if China agrees, the Philippines agrees, we can drill for oil, but the bulk of the oil shares should go to the Philippines under the UN ruling, the arbitration ruling."