PH, China meet on oil exploration project
MANILA, Philippines — The Philippines and China on Monday held their first formal meeting to oversee the joint oil and gas exploration and development in the West Philippine Sea.
The meeting in Beijing convened the intergovernmental joint steering committee based on the memorandum of understanding (MOU) that Chinese President Xi Jinping signed a year ago during his visit to Manila.
“The committee had a candid, in-depth and friendly exchange on cooperation arrangements under the MOU and agreed to further push forward communication and coordination on oil and gas development,” read a joint statement issued on Wednesday.
Foreign Undersecretary for Policy Enrique Manalo led the Philippine delegation, composed of representatives of the foreign and energy departments.
The Chinese delegation was led by Vice Foreign Minister Luo Zhaohui.
Newly retired Supreme Court Justice Antonio Carpio said the oil exploration deal was an “implied” recognition by China of the Philippines’ sovereign rights in the West Philippine Sea.
In 2016, the Philippines won before an international arbitration court a recognition of its exclusive economic zone over waters 370 kilometers from its coast.
The court ruling also invalidated China’s claims over nearly all of the South China Sea. China has ignored the ruling.
The MOU and the terms of reference (TOR), according to Carpio, provide that China through the state-owned China National Offshore Oil Corp. will enter into energy exploration as or through a service contractor of the Philippine government.
The Philippines has awarded service contract 72 in Recto Bank (or Reed Bank) to Forum Energy, an affiliate of Philex Petroleum Corp. but has suspended the oil exploration contract since December 2014 when the territorial dispute with China flared up.
Oil, gas belong to PH
By the nature of its undertaking to provide services and by express stipulation, every service contractor recognizes that the oil and gas belong to the Philippine government, said Carpio.
“Thus there is an implied admission by China that the oil and gas in Reed Bank and other areas covered by the MOU and TOR belong to the Philippines,” Carpio said at an Association of Southeast Asian Nations-related forum on Monday.
Former Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario has also said the Philippines can enter into a joint venture with China for energy exploration in the West Philippine Sea without setting aside the arbitral award.
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