MANILA - President Rodrigo Duterte has lifted the suspension of oil exploration in the West Philippine Sea, the Department of Energy said on Thursday.
Oil exploration activities by Filipino firms in the Philippines' exclusive economic zone (EEZ) were previously halted due to disputes with China.
But in a statement, the DOE said it recommended resuming oil exploration activities in Philippine waters due to the country's need to find new energy sources.
"With the impending depletion of our natural gas reserve in Malampaya, it is the department’s position that there is an urgent imperative to resume exploration, development, and production activities within our EEZ to ensure continuity of supply of indigenous resources in the country,” said Energy Secretary Alfonso Cusi stressed.
He added that resuming oil exploration in the area could attract more foreign investments into the sector and generate jobs.
Cusi said the DOE has issued a “Resume-to-Work” notice to the Service Contractors doing oil exploration in the areas of service contracts (SC) 59, 72, and 75 in the West Philippine Sea.
"SCs 59 and 72 are operated by the Philippine National Oil Company-Exploration Corp. (PNOC-EC) and Forum Ltd., respectively. Meanwhile, PXP Energy Corp. operates SC 75," the DOE said.
Cusi said he has already informed Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. of the President’s approval of the DOE recommendation.
The lifting of the moratorium was arrived at in good faith and with full regard of the ongoing negotiations between the Philippines and China, and Forum Ltd. and the China National Offshore Corp (CNOOC), the DOE said.
In June last year, Duterte said Chinese President Xi Jinping warned him that there would be "trouble" if the Philippines conducted oil exploration activities in the West Philippine Sea, which China also claims as its own.
Despite the Philippines winning an arbitral award from a UN-backed court recognizing its sovereign rights in the West Philippine Sea, China has insisted on its own claims to the waters and its resources.
In October last year, Philippine and Chinese officials agreed to "push forward" communication and coordination for joint oil and gas development, hoping to achieve "progress."