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China hits Philippines over extended oil drilling

MANILA, Philippines – China criticized the Philippines for extending the permit of Forum Energy, a British company led by businessman Manuel V Pangilinan, to conduct oil drilling activities in the disputed West Philippine Sea (South China Sea).

“Without permission from China, oil and gas exploration by any foreign companies in waters under China's jurisdiction is illegal and invalid,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said in a media conference in Beijing on Thursday, July 10.

Hong also asserted that China “has indisputable sovereignty” over the Spratly Islands, which the Chinese call Nansha, as well as its adjacent waters.

Hong issued this statement after Forum Energy confirmed on Wednesday, July 9, that the Philippines' Department of Energy “has granted the company's request for an extension to the second sub-phase of Service Contract 72 (SC72).”

In its statement, Forum Energy added that the deadline to complete the second sub-phase, which involves the drilling of two appraisal wells, “has now been extended by one year to August 15, 2016.”

Forum Energy conducts its drilling activities in the contested Recto (Reed) Bank in the West Philippine Sea.

'Respect Philippines' rights'

SC72 covers an 8,800-square-kilometer area – which, as previously revealed by Forum Energy consultant Weatherford Petroleum, possibly contains as much as 16.6 trillion cubic feet of gas and 416 million barrels of oil.

In January 2013, the Philippine government already extended Forum Energy's permit to August 14, 2015.

The Philippine government awarded SC72 to Forum Energy in 2010 to help assert the Southeast Asian country's sovereign rights over parts of the South China Sea, claimed by the Philippines as the West Philippine Sea.

China, on the other hand, is claiming virtually the entire South China Sea.

The Philippines, in fact, accused Chinese vessels of harassing a Philex-contracted exploration vessel at Recto Bank in 2011.

Despite this, Pangilinan earlier said Forum Energy was negotiating with the state-run China National Offshore Oil Corp for the joint exploration of Recto Bank.

His only condition, Pangilinan said, was for CNOOC to respect the Philippines' rights over Recto Bank.

Philippine President Benigno Aquino III has said he is willing to jointly develop Recto Bank as long as the Philippine claim is respected. – Rappler.com

Paterno R. Esmaquel II

Paterno R. Esmaquel II, news editor of Rappler, specializes in covering religion and foreign affairs. He obtained his MA Journalism degree from Ateneo and later finished MSc Asian Studies (Religions in Plural Societies) at RSIS, Singapore. For story ideas or feedback, email him at pat.esmaquel@rappler.com.

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