PRESIDENT Rodrigo Duterte is open to a joint exploration in the disputed West Philippine Sea (South China Sea) not only with China but also with other “foreign entities,” Malacanang said on Thursday.
In a statement, Palace spokesman Ernesto Abella said that the President was “open to broader options for partnerships” with other countries.
“The President is open to possible cooperation with foreign entities in exploring and extracting mineral and gas resources in the West Philippine Sea,” Abella said.
“We are not limiting ourselves to exclusive economic relationships,” the Palace official added.
Abella, however, said any joint exploration deal over the South China Sea must not violate the Philippine Constitution.
“Any venture, however, must be compliant with the Philippine Constitution and local laws, and have terms which protect the national interest and are beneficial to the Filipino people,” he said.
Abella issued the statement after Foreign Affairs Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano said that Duterte has given the green light to pursue joint exploration with China in the disputed waters.
“The instructions to us right now is to move ahead,” Cayetano told reporters on Wednesday.
“It’s a directive of the President and we need it because Malampaya will run out in hopefully, not less than a decade,” he added, referring to the offshore gas platform that supplies 40 percent of Luzon’s power need.
Duterte announced that the Philippines entered into a joint venture agreement with China in extracting all mineral and gas resources in the contested waters.
On the sidelines of his second State of the Nation Address (SONA) on July 24, the President said the emissaries of the two countries were now negotiating to come up with a target date of joint exploration.
“There is no [timeline]yet but we are into it already. We are there already. We already have a partner but I don’t know who. Our emissaries, as well as theirs, are already there. They are talking and they are exploring,” Duterte said.
“When they start to excavate the gas and all, I tell you, it’s going to be just like a joint venture. So it will be fair,” he added.
The Philippines has maintained a “non-adversarial” approach in addressing the conflict in resource-rich South China Sea with China, even after the international court ruled in favor of the Philippine government.
The Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague, Netherlands released its decision on July 12, 2016, saying that China has no basis to lay claim to most parts of the disputed waters.
Despite the arbitral ruling, the President has said the Philippines was not ready to invoke it because China has warned of declaring war if he would raise the territorial row.