No joint exploration deal during Xi’s visit but discussion possible - DOE

Dharel Placido, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Nov 07 2018 04:35 PM | Updated as of Nov 07 2018 11:18 PM

No joint exploration deal during Xi’s visit but discussion possible - DOE 1
President Rodrigo Duterte and Chinese President Xi Jinping shake hands prior to their bilateral meeting at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, October 20, 2016. King Rodriguez, Malacañang Photo/File

MANILA - The Philippines and China will not sign any joint exploration deal in the disputed South China Sea during the visit of Chinese President Xi Jinping to the Philippines this month, Energy Secretary Alfonso Cusi said Wednesday.

“No exploration deal that I know [of],” Cusi said in a text message when asked whether the two countries would strike a deal during Xi’s Philippine visit.

Cusi, however, said there "may be" possible discussion of such a deal.

“I would defer to the better judgment of the President if exploration deals will be taken up,” Cusi said.

Cusi said as of now, only Service Contract (SC) 57, which involves a Chinese firm, is up for President Rodrigo Duterte's signature. SC 57 covers an offshore area in northwest Palawan or west of the Calamian islands, an area not under China's claim. 

SC 57 has been pending since 2005 and has been delayed due to administrative issues. According to the contract, state-run China National Offshore Oil Company (CNOOC) farmed in into SC 57 in 2006, acquiring 51 percent participating interest.

Cusi said Executive Order No. 556 prohibits farming in, but its amendment would allow SC 57 to push through.

He said his department is also pushing for the lifting of a moratorium on exploration in the disputed South China Sea, but diplomatic concerns over such a move will have to be handled by the foreign affairs department.

“That is why our focus now, DOE’s focus… is on the 14 pre-determined areas within the Philippines’ exclusive territory. Those are off-shores and on-shores and these will be made available come third week of November – of this month,” he said.

“I did discuss that with DFA (Department of Foreign Affairs) and I have [said] that DOE’s position is to lift the moratorium. But as I have said, that issue, because of the diplomatic concerns is best answered by DFA.”

China claims almost the entire South China Sea, believed to be rich in energy reserves and marine resources, conflicting with partial claims of the Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia, Vietnam, and Taiwan.

In 2016, the Philippines won a case at the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague, which invalidated China’s claim to sovereignty over most of the South China Sea, and also made clear that the potentially oil-rich Reed Bank was inside the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone (EEZ). 

China does not recognize the ruling and has continued to build artificial islands in the waters, many fortified into military stations. 

Duterte refused to flaunt the ruling, choosing instead to repair diplomatic and economic ties with Beijing as he shifted foreign policy away from Manila's traditional ally, Washington. - with Reuters