Duterte: West PH Sea exploration with China like ‘co-ownership’

MANILA, Philippines – President Rodrigo Duterte likened joint exploration with China in the West Philippine Sea to "co-ownership" in a speech on Wednesday, February 28, in Marawi City.

"Ngayon, offer nila, eh di joint exploration. Eh di parang co-ownership, parang dalawa tayong may-ari niyan, eh di mas maganda 'yan kaysa away," he told an audience of Marawi residents and government officials. (They offered joint exploration. So that's like co-ownership, it's like two of us own that. That's better than fighting.)

The Philippine president didn't distinguish if he meant co-ownership of the West Philippine Sea or of the resources found in it, such as oil.

Duterte hailed China's joint exploration offer as proof that his foreign relations strategy with them succeeded in bringing benefits to the Philippines.

"Kita mo, eh kung inasar ko noon, pinagpu-putang ina ko sila, wala nangyari," he said. (See, if I annoyed them before, called them sons of bitches, nothing would have happened.)

Why it matters: The 1987 Constitution states that resources within the country's Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) must be reserved for Filipinos. The West Philippine Sea is a portion of the larger South China Sea which falls within the country's EEZ and continental shelf.

Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio, an expert on maritime law, has said the Constitution bans "joint development " within the country's EEZ. 

While the government can tap a private company as a contractor to extract resources within the EEZ, there can be no state-to-state joint development, he said.

Cause for concern? Duterte's use of the term "co-ownership" could be a cause for concern given that the West Philippine Sea and its resources are supposed to be exclusively for Filipinos.

China's claim to the West Philippine Sea was invalidated by the Permanent Court of Aribtration in the Hague, Netherlands, back in 2016. Beijing, however, has chosen to ignore the ruling.

Duterte also used the term "co-ownership" after joking that it would be better if China declares the Philippines as one of its provinces, a remark widely condemned by lawmakers and citizens. – Rappler.com

Pia Ranada

Pia Ranada covers the Office of the President and Bangsamoro regional issues for Rappler. While helping out with desk duties, she also watches the environment sector and the local government of Quezon City. For tips or story suggestions, you can reach her at pia.ranada@rappler.com.