MANILA - Engaging in a joint oil and gas exploration with China in the West Philippine Sea will "somehow give up" the arbitration ruling that clarifies Manila's sovereign rights over the disputed areas in the sea, a maritime expert said Sunday.
Jay Batongbacal, a professor of maritime affairs and Laws of the sea, explained that the government has yet to address legal issues in areas that will potentially be subjects of the joint exploration deal between the Philippines and China.
"Given that we have the arbitration ruling on our side, it's really hard to think of a way to proceed with this joint development without somehow giving up the arbitration ruling," he told ANC.
The Philippines and China in February agreed to set up a special panel to work out how they can jointly explore offshore oil and gas in waters both countries claim, without needing to address the issue of sovereignty.
"It's a very difficult to resolve. The conditions for engaging in joint development in the areas are not yet being addressed legally by the administration's actions or statements so far," he added.
Batongbacal echoed the sentiments of former Solicitor General Florin Hilbay, who believes that the Philippines must file a diplomatic protest against China for the supposed militarization of disputed areas in the South China Sea.
Meanwhile, the maritime professor said the Philippines must be commended for exercising self-restraint over the South China Sea issues even if other claimant countries had already started developing weapons systems in the area.
The government has already begun repairing the collapsed runway on Pag-asa Island, the largest of its 9 features in the Spratly islands. Presidential spokesperson Harry Roque said this is "consistent with our national sovereignty and jurisdiction."
"Unlike some of the other countries that have been installing weapons systems, which can change the situation on the ground, the Philippines is just maintaining its facilities. We are exercising the most self-restraint at this point. I think the Philippines must be commended for keeping that," said Batongbacal.