2022 Philippine Elections

Lacson supports ’60-40′ joint exploration with China in West PH Sea

Aika Rey
Lacson supports ’60-40′ joint exploration with China in West PH Sea

JOINT EXPLORATION. Senator Panfilo Lacson speaks at the presidential forum held by the Financial Executives Institute of the Philippines on October 30, 2021.

Financial Executives Institute of the Philippines

If elected president, Senator Panfilo Lacson also wants a balance of power in the West Philippine Sea

Presidential aspirant and Senator Panfilo Lacson said that he supports the proposed joint oil and gas exploration deal with China in the West Philippine Sea, but one condition must be met.

“As long as they would adhere to the Constitutional provision of 60-40, I’m all for it,” said Lacson in the Meet the Presidentiables forum hosted by the Financial Executives Institute of the Philippines on Saturday evening, October 30.

“Why? ‘Pag (If) 60-40, it only shows that we own the area, those islands. We have sovereign rights over these areas,” he added.

This position is not surprising as Senate President Vicente Sotto III, Lacson’s running mate, had previously pushed for this setup.

Oil- and gas-rich Reed Bank, located in the West Philippine Sea, is part of the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone, which China falsely claimed as its own. Beijing has since rejected the Hague ruling that invalidated its nine-dash line claim.

If China does not agree to partner with the Philippines, Lacson said he would, if elected president, build stronger alliances with militarily powerful countries such as the United States (US), Australia, Japan, or European Union.

Lacson added that the 70-year-old Mutual Defense Treaty (MDT) between the Philippines and the US is a “potent weapon in our arsenal yet untapped.” Under the 1951 MDT, there is a commitment to defend each other in case of an external attack.

“I have always emphasized this: We are a very weak country militarily compared to China and the only way we can secure the area is through a balance of power. We rely on other countries as militarily strong as China,” said Lacson.

Why would other countries be interested in forging an alliance with the Philippines to secure the West Philippine Sea? Lacson noted that 10% to 12% of the maritime trade passes through the area.

“Foreign policies are always anchored on national interest. We cannot rely on these countries if they have no national interest or any interest at all in those areas, but they have,” he said.

“We should seize the opportunity that other countries are also interested in securing the area.”

But this does not mean that the Philippines will be pro-US under a Lacson presidency.

Dapat (We should have) an independent foreign policy – not pro-China, not pro-US, but pro-Philippines. That is the basic requirement of a foreign policy,” Lacson said.

2013 report by the United States Energy Information Administration said Reed Bank could hold up to 5.4 billion barrels of oil and 55.1 trillion cubic feet of natural gas.

In November 2018, President Rodrigo Duterte and Chinese President Xi Jinping exchanged a memorandum of understanding on oil and gas development in the West Philippine Sea.

Almost two years later, in October 2020, Duterte lifted the moratorium on oil and gas exploration in the West Philippine Sea. The lifting was part of the Philippine government’s to-do list to push forward with the memorandum of understanding on joint exploration with China.

With this, the Philippine National Oil Company-Exploration Corporation could start drilling activities in the last quarter of 2021. This covers Service Contract No. 57 or the Calamian oil and gas prospect near Malampaya, in which China National Offshore Oil Corporation International has 51% operating interest. – Rappler.com

Aika Rey

Aika Rey is a business reporter for Rappler. She covered the Senate of the Philippines before fully diving into numbers and companies. Got tips? Find her on Twitter at @reyaika or shoot her an email at aika.rey@rappler.com.