MANILA – President Rodrigo Duterte on Monday said the Philippines and China are now working on entering a joint exploration agreement regarding natural gas deposits in the disputed South China Sea.
Duterte touched on the South China Sea issue in his State of the Nation Address, saying the two countries will have to confront the issue eventually.
Asked to elaborate on what he meant, Duterte told reporters after his SONA: “When they start to excavate the gas and all. I tell you, it’s going to be just like a joint venture.”
Duterte stopped himself from revealing more information.
“Wala pa sila pero we are into it already. We are there already, may partner na. ‘Di ko lang masabi. Nandoon na ang atin pati kanila. They are talking and they are exploring,” he said.
Duterte said joint exploration with China may be the way to go as the Philippines does not have the capacity to explore the disputed area for oil reserves by itself.
The President’s openness to a joint exploration and development of the disputed sea, however, has been met with opposition.
Supreme Court Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio has rejected the idea of a joint exploration between Beijing and the Manila, saying it would violate the Philippine Constitution.
Carpio has said the Constitution mandates the Philippine government to protect its exclusive economic zone (EEZ), an area 200 nautical miles from the coast of the country’s territorial sea baselines.
Carpio said the 381,000 square kilometers of marine space in the South China Sea was granted by the court to Manila, and "there (is) no overlapping EEZ from China."
In the news conference after his SONA, the President said he cannot afford to confront China over the maritime dispute.
“They have the missiles now, nakatutok na sa atin. It will reach Metro Manila in seven minutes,” he claimed.