WEST PHILIPPINE SEA

Duterte bares PH-China venture

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The Philippines and China are now working on a joint oil exploration deal in the disputed West Philippine Sea (South China Sea), President Rodrigo Duterte has said.

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Speaking to reporters after he delivered his State of the Nation Address (SONA) Monday, the President disclosed that the proposed joint venture of the Philippines and China involved gas and oil.

“When they start to excavate the gas and oil, I tell you it’s going to be just like a joint venture. Para pareho [So it will be fair],” Duterte said in his news conference at the Batasang Pambansa complex.

On Tuesday, Foreign Afffairs Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano said the planned joint oil exploration in the disputed West Philippine Sea announced by the President was not a new undertaking as talks began during the time of the late president Corazon Aquino.

Cayetano said talks about joint oil exploration between the Philippines and China started in 1986 but the two countries failed to follow through.

“And we are praying that this generation under President Xi Jinping and President Duterte will have the wisdom to find a way that these natural resources will benefit our people,” Cayetano said in a brief news conference after the signing of a memorandum of agreement strengthening cooperation between the Philippines and China.

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi agreed with Cayetano, saying a joint development was the right approach.

“In waters where there are overlapping of maritime rights and interest, if one party goes for unilateral development, then the other party will take the same actions, and that might complicate the situation at sea that might lead to tensions, and as end result nobody might be able to develop the resources,” Wang said.

No timeline yet

The President said, however, that there was no timeline yet for the project.

“Wala pa sila pero [They aren’t there yet but] we are into it already, we are there already, may partner na [we already have a partner]. Nandoon na ‘yung atin pati ‘yung kanila [What’s ours is there already, as well as theirs].

They are talking, they are exploring,” he said on Monday.

The government is pressing ahead with the plan despite Supreme Court Associate Justice Antonio Carpio’s caution that the Constitution prohibits joint development within the country’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ).

The EEZ is an area 200 miles from a state’s coastal baseline wherein it has the exclusive rights to exploit and explore resources.

In his address to the nation, Duterte did not talk much about the country’s maritime dispute with China, only that it would be discussed “sooner or later.”

He insisted that his administration would maintain “warmer” relations with China.

“We have cultivated warmer relations with China through bilateral dialogues and other mechanisms, leading to an easing of tensions between the two countries and improved negotiating environment on the West Philippine Sea,” Duterte said.

The Philippines and China have rekindled their relations since Duterte came to power in June 2016.

Hoping to forge stronger economic ties, the Duterte administration has decided not to press Beijing on the dispute over the South China Sea despite the Philippines’ victory in 2016 before UN that recognized the country’s sovereign rights to explore and use marine resources in the area.

China has continued to ignore the ruling and insisted on holding a bilateral “dialogue” with the Philippines in settling the dispute.

Warning of war

During Monday’s news conference, Duterte said he once attempted to invoke the country’s victory and intent to drill resources in the South China Sea but his counterpart, Chinese President Xi Jinping, warned him of war.

He reiterated that the Philippines was not ready to fight China, which he said was a “friend.”

“I’m not prepared to go to war. I have to be frank. The truth is, I will not. It will end up a slaughter to my forces. Kulang tayo [We do not have enough resources]. They have the state-of-the-art and everything,” Duterte said.
“Whose fault it is. Tingnan mo nga [Look at it], it was there three years ago…And yet, nothing was done. Because we were not prepared to go to war or trouble or violence, we just secretly communicated our arbitration award,” he added.

with JEFFERSON ANTIPORDA

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