Joint development deal may be finalized before Xi visit – Roque

Pia Ranada
Chinese President Xi Jinping is expected to fly to the Philippines in late 2018, after he attends the APEC Summit in Papua New Guinea in November

VISITOR. President Rodrigo Duterte may soon welcome Chinese President Xi Jinping to Philippine shores. Malacañang file photo

MANILA, Philippines – The framework for joint development of resources in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea) between the Philippines and China may be finalized before Chinese President Xi Jinping’s Manila visit later this year, Malacañang said on Thursday, August 9.

Asked at a Palace news briefing when the agreement would be “forged,” said Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque said: “No time frame but, of course, because of the impending visit of President Xi, I would say that it is anytime between now and the visit of President Xi but it was not expressly stated as such.”

Xi is expected to visit the Philippines in the last quarter of 2018. Roque said the Chinese leader might head to Manila after the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation Summit in Papua New Guinea in mid-November.

Manila and Beijing earlier held talks on a “bilateral agreement that would enable the joint exploration to happen” in the West Philippine Sea, said Roque.

The Philippines and China have agreed on a 60-40 profit-sharing arrangement in favor of the Philippines.

The bilateral framework is supposed to clear the way for private entities in the Philippines and China to enter into contracts for joint development of natural resources like oil and gas in the sea.

Working groups

Foreign Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano said on Tuesday that earlier this week, Duterte allowed him to form a working group on the proposed joint exploration in the West Philippine Sea.

Cayetano had said the working group will be composed of representatives from the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, the Department of Energy, the Department of National Defense, and other agencies.

He said that China “is also ready with their working group.”

The working group will help the government negotiate with China, though the government will leave the contract negotiation “to the commercial entities.”

“The challenge is for us to be able to draft a framework or an agreement that the Supreme Court will have an easy time saying it’s constitutional,” Cayetano said.

‘Exclusive to Filipinos’

However, former president Benigno Aquino III earlier warned that the proposed 60-40 arrangement could end up as disadvantageous to the Philippines.

Ang bargaining position, 60-40. Baka naman sa dulo nito ay baliktad. Baka sila 60, baka 70 (Our bargaining position is 60-40. But in the end, it might be the opposite. They might get 60, maybe 70),” Aquino said. 

Aquino stressed that the West Philippine Sea is covered by the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone (EEZ), a 200-nautical mile area within which the Philippines has exclusive rights to explore and exploit marine resources.

Acting Supreme Court Chief Justice Antonio Carpio, a leading expert on the West Philippine Sea, earlier said the Philippine Constitution bans joint development within the Philippines’ EEZ. 

Xi in Davao City?

During the Palace briefing, Roque also said that Duterte had invited Xi to visit his home in Davao City.

Duterte had invited Xi to come to the Philippines during his past visits to China.

“I remember in China the President even invited him not just to come to the Philippines, but to [have] dinner in his house in Davao,” said Roque. 

The first foreign leader to visit the President’s private residence in Davao was  Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in January 2017– Rappler.com

Pia Ranada

Pia Ranada is a senior reporter for Rappler covering Philippine politics and environmental issues. For tips and story suggestions, email her at pia.ranada@rappler.com.