MANILA, Philippines – Filipinos can soon expect joint exploration for oil in the West Philippine Sea between the Philippines and China, said President Rodrigo Duterte on Monday, July 24.
“When they start to excavate the gas and oil, I tell you it’s going to be just like a joint venture,” he said during a press conference after his second State of the Nation Address (SONA).
Duterte was asked to elaborate on a statement in his SONA that the maritime dispute with China will have to be tackled eventually.
Asked when the joint development of resources will begin, Duterte gave a vague answer but assured talks are already taking place.
“Wala pa sila pero (They aren’t there yet but) we are into it there already, we are there already…Nandoon na ‘yung atin pati ‘yung kanila (What’s ours is there already, as well as theirs). They are talking, they are exploring,” he said.
He also claimed China already has a "partner" for the joint exploration, but stopped himself from saying who.
"We are there already, may partner na sila, hindi ko lang – walang masabi kung sino (they have a partner, I just can't say – no one can say who)," said Duterte.
He also seemed to say that China’s help in drilling oil in the West Philippine Sea is necessary because the Philippines cannot do it alone.
“Gusto mo solohin, ‘di mo naman kaya (You want to claim it as yours alone but you can’t hack it),” said Duterte.
He devoted most of his response to defending himself against assertions, specifically by Supreme Court Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio, that he is not defending the Philippines’ claim of the West Philippine Sea.
Duterte claimed that, far from hesitating to assert the claim against China, he has insisted on the Philippines’ claim in front of no less than Chinese President Xi Jinping. During their conversation, which he said took place in his May visit to Beijing for the Belt and Road Forum, Xi supposedly threatened war, as recalled by Duterte previously.
“You say, I don’t assert, son of a bitch, I said it straight, ‘That’s ours,’” said Duterte.
“Then he (Xi) answered, he’s really skilled, in the end, it sounded like, let’s fight,” he added.
Justice Carpio previously pointed out that Duterte is "prohibited" from entering into a joint venture with another country if it involves resources found within the country's exclusive economic zone (EEZ).
"You cannot enter into joint development within our EEZ. That’s prohibited by the Constitution," Carpio said in July 2016 in an ANC interview.
The EEZ is an area 200 miles from a coastal state’s baselines within which the state has the exclusive rights to explore and exploit marine resources.
Carpio said allowing companies to drill in the sea is allowed, given certain guidelines. But state-to-state arrangements violates the charter.
"What is allowed by the Constitution is, we can attract foreign companies, like Shell, to drill and we will pay them in kind. But it cannot be a joint development state to state because that is our sovereign territory," said Carpio, one of the country's leading experts on the West Philippine Sea.
Duterte has said he would bring up the Hague ruling when China starts to show interest in digging for oil and other natural resources in the West Philippine Sea.
The arbitral award from the Permanent Court of Arbitration nullified China’s claim in the West Philippine Sea. The Philippine and Chinese governments are pursuing bilateral talks on the dispute which began last May.
Since he was a presidential candidate, Duterte has said he is open to joint exploration in the disputed sea with China. – Rappler.com
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 email@example.com.