Oil exploration in Recto Bank to remain on hold – Cayetano
Foreign Secretary Alan Cayetano said oil and gas exploration in the Recto Bank in the West Philippine Sea, which the government suspended since 2014 due to the territorial dispute with China,” will remain on hold for some time.
He said the government has not found a framework to legally justify conducting a joint exploration with China within the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone (EEZ) in the West Philippine Sea.
The West Philippine Sea is part of the South China Sea, which China claims almost entirely.
“It’s not that simple, they have to wait some more. I am working closely with the secretary of energy (Alfonso Cusi) and we’re looking for a framework that will keep under our Constitution and will be acceptable to claimants in the area,” Cayetano told reporters on Tuesday night at the conclusion of the meetings of foreign ministers in the region.
He said he could not say when they expect to make a decision, adding they have to clear the agreement with the Supreme Court and with China.
But he said the government is aware of the urgency since the natural gas from the Malampaya project off Palawan may run out in a few years.
“In the disputed areas, the direction the President gave me is to pursue joint exploration first; we have to find out first what is there. Development is a little bit more trickier,” Cayetano said.
“If it’s an area claimed by only China and the Philippines, we would discuss it between ourselves. So we’re optimistic and we’re working hard to get there. You create the environment (where) you can do something together, it will happen,” he said.
The government had awarded PXP Energy Corp. the right to drill in Recto Bank, also known as Reed Bank.
But the exploration was suspended in 2014 when tensions with China heightened after the Philippines sought a ruling before the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague.
In July 2016 the tribunal ruled in favor of the Philippines’ rights over its 370-kilometer EEZ which includes Recto Bank, and invalidated China’s claims.
The exploration however remained suspended. But last month during the visit of Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi, Cayetano said they are discussing joint exploration with China.
Supreme Court Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio has warned that a joint exploration with China would “not be legally possible” if Beijing would insist it had sovereignty over waters within the Philippines’ EEZ.
Cayetano said the Philippines will not press the arbitral ruling for the time being, saying negotiations with China are “working.”
Reacting to the call recently made by the US, Australia and Japan on China and surprisingly, the Philippines to abide by the arbitral ruling, Cayetano said other nations should “not to tell us what to do.”
“We respect their views, but the problem of territorial dispute between China and the Philippines is between China and the Philippines… We expect nations not to tell us what to do,” Cayetano said.
“We are good friends to China, we are good friends to Japan, we are good friends to US and we will appreciate not being told what to do because we are a sovereign nation. And that is the instruction of my President,” he added.
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