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Philippines, China hold first meeting on oil, gas exploration deal

MANILA, Philippines – The Philippines and China officially convened the intergovernmental joint steering committee on oil and gas exploration, marking a step forward in joint exploration efforts by the two countries in specific areas in the West Philippine Sea.

The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) announced on Wednesday, October 30, that Filipino and Chinese officials held their first meeting on the matter in Beijing last Monday, October 28.

During the meeting, both governments confirmed the official establishment of the committee which is in line with the memorandum of understanding (MOU) and terms of reference on oil and gas exploration signed by both Manila and Beijing.

The committee, the DFA said, had a "candid, in-depth, and friendly exchange on cooperation arrangements" under the MOU and agreed to move forward with talks.

Among those present at the committee's first meeting were Foreign Undersecretary for Policy Enrique Manalo, who headed the Philippine delegation, and Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Luo Zhaohui, who headed the Chinese delegation.

The DFA said other officials from both the foreign affairs and energy departments or ministries from both countries, along with other relevant agencies, were also present.

The first official meeting of the joint governmental committee is the latest development after the Philippines and China formed committees to draft contracts covering specific areas for oil and gas exploration in Philippine waters during President Rodrigo Duterte's 5th visit to China last August.

The formation of the groups was also stipulated in the MOU on joint exploration signed during Xi's state visit to the Philippines in November 2018.

China earlier authorized the China National Offshore Oil Corporation to undertake oil and gas exploration, while the Philippines said companies already holding service contracts would have authority. Areas not covered by any existing service contract would be handled by state-run Philippine National Oil Company-Exploration Corporation.

The issues being tackled by the committee include proposed areas for exploration. These areas are expected to be finalized by November this year.

Manila and Beijing will also have to thresh out the 60-40 sharing scheme Duterte wants.

Retired Supreme Court senior associate justice Antonio Carpio, a staunch defender of the West Philippine Sea, earlier said the Philippines is "safe" with the recent oil deal between Manila and Beijing as the Philippine government has included service contracts, which recognize that the area falls within Philippine sovereignty or sovereign rights. (READ: Carpio on West Philippine Sea: Every Filipino's duty to defend PH territory)

The MOU also specifies oil and gas exploration would be done without prejudice to the legal positions of both the Philippines and China. – Rappler.com

Sofia Tomacruz

Sofia Tomacruz covers foreign affairs, the overseas Filipino workers, and elections. She also writes stories on the treatment of women and children. Follow her on Twitter @sofiatomacruz. Email her at sofia.tomacruz@rappler.com.

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