PRESIDENT Rodrigo Duterte should insist on the Philippines’ right to exploit the resource-rich West Philippine Sea (South China Sea) when he visits China this week, with the Malampaya field off Palawan set to run out of natural gas in less than a decade, a neophyte senator said.
Senator Sherwin Gatchalian said the impending depletion of the Malampaya Gas Field – one of Luzon’s primary power sources – and the forthcoming expiration of the Malampaya service contract meant that the government should be looking for new natural gas sources in other areas including the West Philippine Sea.
“We will need to further discuss the prospects of our oil and gas industries in relation to the exploration of the West Philippine Sea, where abundant energy resources sit untapped beneath contested waters,” Gatchalian said in a privilege speech delivered last week.
Gatchalian, who heads the Senate energy committee, said reducing the country’s dependence on foreign energy sources would be determined by how the administration of President Rodrigo Duterte handles the dispute over West Philippine Sea.
Duterte is scheduled to meet Chinese President Xi Jinping and other Chinese officials when he visits Beijing this week.
“I hope this administration’s emerging independent foreign policy agenda will also serve as a catalyst for achieving Philippine energy independence, by vigorously upholding and defending our exclusive sovereign rights to explore and develop resources in the West Philippine Sea,” Gatchalian said.
The Department of Energy earlier told the Senate energy committee that the country would need additional sources of energy ahead of the scheduled shutdown of old power plants and the depletion of the Malampaya field in 2024.
Malampaya fuels three power plants generating a combined 2,700 megawatts of electricity.
The Energy department is also looking at nuclear power and has raised the possibility of reviving the $2.3-billion Bataan Nuclear Power Plant (BNPP) constructed during the time of former president Ferdinand Marcos.
Senators Joseph Victor Ejercito, Juan Edgardo Angara and Nancy Binay have expressed openness to the idea but insisted that a thorough study be made first.
Gatchalian is opposed to the idea of reviving the BNPP, saying it is tainted by corruption and is too old to use. It is also close to an earthquake fault.
The energy committee chief however clarified that he was not against nuclear power. But the government must use the latest technology available, he said.
Gatchalian, in his speech, also called for legislation that would help clear roadblocks in existing laws that hinder progress in the energy sector.
The senator has filed a bill that will significantly cut red tape involved in power infrastructure projects.
Based on the data from PhilHydro Association, Inc., the regulatory process for a run-of-river hydro plant could take 1,340 days. The proponent of the plant will have to secure at least 359 signatures from 74 regulatory agencies and attached bureaus.
“They will also have to make sense of 20 different laws governing the entire process as they attempt to accomplish 43 different contracts, certifications, endorsements and licenses,” Gatchalian said.