MANILA, Philippines - Former House Speaker Jose de Venecia has proposed to the Aquino administration the shelving of sovereignty issues in favor of joint exploration of the Spratly Islands area with other claimant countries.
De Venecia said the proposal, which he has discussed with leaders of China and Vietnam, involves the declaration of an open seas policy and the demilitarization of the area with the pullout of military garrisons.
He said all claimant parties may instead opt for tourism and other modes of economic development as well as declaring the area a “ zone of peace, friendship and development."
De Venecia said shelving sovereignty issues was first proposed by Deng Xiaoping with then President Corazon Aquino ” who found it interesting.”
The former Speaker hopes his proposal can be put on the agenda with China’s government when President Aquino makes a state visit to Beijing.
“I hope this could create beginnings of settlement we all see among claimants in West Philippine Sea," he told reporters.
De Venecia stressed the timeliness of the joint drilling and exploration of the area for the purpose of tapping oil and other resources of the area considering the rising fuel prices in the world market and the chaos in the Middle East.
He hopes for the revival of the 2005 joint seismic agreement with China and Vietnam, subject to the modification of excluding Reed Bank which is very close to the Philippines.
De Venecia recalled that when an earlier version of that agreement was in effect, there were no conflicts in the area.
“We should revive that agreement. We should request that we exclude Reed Bank because it's too close to Philippines 85 miles from Palawan and more than 500 miles from mainland China,” he said.
He added: "There is no substitute for dialogue and negotiated political settlement in the South China Sea.”
He also said claimant countries can tap the natural resources in the area, which includes oil, under a joint agreement.
Another modification on the proposed revival of the 2005 joint agreement could be the inclusion of Malaysia and Brunei.
De Venecia underscored that the purpose of such an agreement is to prevent war.
Also included in de Venecia’s proposal is the observance to the extent possible, of the UN Convention of the Law of the Sea as well as an effort by claimant countries to make legally binding, the 2002 Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea to guarantee free, untrammeled navigation for all who sail in the area.