The Philippines is considering joint explorations with China in Recto Bank and the Calamian Group of Islands off Palawan in the West Philippine Sea, Malacañang said on Friday.
Presidential spokesperson Harry Roque said the areas under consideration, both within the country’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ), were covered by Service Contract 72 and Service Contract 57.
Recto Bank is covered by Service Contract 72, while Calamian is covered by Service Contract 57 for the exploration of energy sources.
Subject of dispute
Of the two areas, only Recto Bank is the subject of a dispute with China, according to Roque.
He again defended the administration’s proposal for joint exploration, saying that if this pushed through, it would be the “sovereign decision” of the country.
But the proposal has been met with criticism, especially after President Duterte likened it to “co-ownership” with China.
Acting Chief Justice Antonio Carpio on Friday said that the Philippine government could not concede to China half of the area it planned to jointly explore for energy as this would be in violation of the country’s sovereignty.
“I don’t think it is correct to say that we should be happy… because China is sharing it with us. In the first place, it’s ours and we should be very worried if China will get half of it because that will violate our Constitution,” he said.
Under the Constitution, “there is absolutely no way” the Duterte administration could concede or give away half of the EEZ, or make China its co-owner, said Carpio, who was in Bacolod City on Friday.
But Roque said the Philippines could partner with another nation for the exploration of resources.
“Exclusive economic zone refers to the exclusive right to explore and exploit, but it is your sovereign decision if you want to have joint exploration. That is the point there,” he said.
He also said the joint exploration would be implemented by corporations and not by sovereign states.
Service Contract 72 is held by Forum Energy, a subsidiary of PXP Energy Corp. chaired by Manuel V. Pangilinan. The contract covers 8,800 square kilometers. —WITH A REPORT FROM CARLA GOMEZ