PRESIDENT Rodrigo Duterte on Tuesday said he is open to exploration and development in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea) with rival claimants China and Vietnam, as long as it is “fair” to the Philippines.
Speaking to reporters upon his arrival in Davao City from Beijing, Duterte cited an agreement during the administration of President Gloria Macapagal for a joint study in the disputed waters.
“Let us see the wherewithals. Tingnan muna kung ‘di ba ako malugi [Let us see if I will not get a raw deal]? It has to be fair and it has to be balanced,” Duterte told reporters.
“So if we can get something there with no hassle at all, so why not?” the President added.
Duterte issued the statement after his special envoy for intercultural dialogue, former House speaker Jose de Venecia Jr., proposed the joint development of oil and natural gas resources in the South China Sea by China and Southeast Asian countries, during a China-led economic forum in Beijing.
De Venecia emphasized the possible economic gains from joint exploration for oil and gas deposits in the contested waters.
“We must find ways and means to jointly develop the area’s hydrocarbon potential to help lessen our common dependence on distant petroleum sources in the Middle East,” de Venecia said.
Arroyo signed a joint marine seismic undertaking with China and Vietnam in 2005 upon de Venecia’s recommendation, but the deal was voided by the Supreme Court. About 80 percent of the proposed area for the joint study was located within the Philippines’ 200-nautical mile exclusive economic zone.
Duterte, since he assumed office, has moved to ease tensions with China by pushing for a non-aggressive approach on the maritime dispute.
Manila and Beijing will hold bilateral consultations on the dispute this week, and Duterte said both sides must work on a code of conduct.
“We avoid violence and we avoid war because frankly we cannot afford it and China cannot afford it also at this time,” he said, as he recalled his meetings with Chinese President Xi Jinping and Premier Li Keqiang, who reaffirmed their commitments to accelerate infrastructure projects previously agreed upon between the Philippines and China.
“I’m very happy that they are sincere. They are there to comply with their commitments to us,” the President said. “They are opening the doors for our teachers, workers, craftsmen and engineers,” he added.
‘Lose Scarborough and it’s game over’ – Justicer Carpio
Supreme Court Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio on Tuesday warned the government against entering into a joint exploration deal with China, saying Beijing would only agree if Manila conceded sovereignty over the disputed area.
“China will give you 50-percent ownership of the joint exploration on the condition that you will give up your sovereignty rights,” Carpio said in a forum organized by Trident Defense, a security think tank, at Solaire grand ballroom in Pasay City.
Carpio noted that China now has control of 80 percent of the sea’s oil, gas and fish.
He urged President Duterte to instead take hold of Panatag [Scarborough] Shoal or else “it’s game over” for the Philippines’ claims.
The senior magistrate cited the strong stand of Vietnam over the Paracel Islands in the South China Sea.
“Send the Navy there at the Scarborough and let’s test if the United States will defend us as stipulated in the [Mutual Defense Treaty],” Carpio said, referring to the 1951 military agreement between Manila and Washington.
“If US will not defend the Philippines, the Japanese and South Korea will begin to doubt Washington,” Carpio said.
China seized Panatag from the Philippines in 2012, prompting Manila to file an arbitration case before a UN-backed tribunal. Manila won the case, but Beijing refuses to recognize it.
In its July 2016 ruling, the Permanent Court of Arbitration invalidated China’s “nine-dash-line” claim that covers
nearly the entire South China Sea.
Filipino fishermen were allowed to fish anew in the area after Duterte’s state visit to China in October.
Only a narrow water passage now separates China from contested islands in the South China Sea, after Beijing’s reclamation activities and installation of communications and military equipment, Carpio said.
“And, they are moving closer to prove that their nine-dash line is real,” he said.
With report from JAIME R. PILAPIL