MANILA - Security will be a bigger concern should a joint energy exploration deal between the Philippines and China push through, a professor on maritime affairs said Wednesday.
Jay Batongbacal, director of the Institute for Maritime Affairs and Law of the Sea, said a deal on joint exploration may give China legitimate grounds to send more ships to disputed areas in the South China Sea.
"The fact that China will have a stake in these 2 contracts means they now have a legitimate ground to send ships to establish a presence and even protect Chinese operations," he told ANC.
"How do you handle presence of Chinese warship or law enforcement vessels escorting Chinese commercial vessels off Coron? That is something our Navy should prepare for," he added.
Meanwhile, Batongbacal also said 60-40 sharing on the proposed joint exploration is no doubt allowed by the Constitution, but he stressed that the real issue is how this will be implemented.
"What's important for us is there should be no acknowledgement on our part that they have any legal rights to the resources, that this agreement is being done purely in a matter of political accommodation and has no legal effects at all," he said.
Former solicitor general Florin Hilbay earlier warned the Philippines would waive its rights over the West Philippine Sea should it agree to a joint oil and gas exploration with China.
"That's rather blatantly unconstitutional. It's against the decision in the Philippines vs. China, which declares that we don't have any overlapping entitlements with China over the West Philippine Sea. Which means that the potential oil and gas, such as Reed Bank, is entirely and exclusively ours," Hilbay told ANC.
"The moment you enter into some kind of an agreement such as co-ownership, you are recognizing the right of the co-owner, which will result in the waiver of the decision in Philippines vs China."
Foreign Affairs Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano has said the administration is working on a framework for possible oil exploration with China where companies can work on a commercial level without damaging the country's claims.
Cayetano assured that the framework will not go beyond the Philippine Constitution and follow as a standard the Malampaya 60-40 sharing of revenues for the Philippines.
Manila is now racing to tap oil resources in the disputed sea as the Malampaya natural gas field off Palawan can only supply gas up to 2029.