Philippine economy

Aquino hits China over 2 ships in Recto Bank

Paterno R. Esmaquel II

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China's hydrographic ships have been sighted within the Philippines' exclusive economic zone. President Aquino says he fears heightened tension between the 2 countries in the South China Sea.

FEARING TENSION. President Benigno Aquino III says the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) spotted two Chinese hydrographic ships in the disputed South China Sea. In this photo taken on August 14, 2014, Aquino leads the ceremonial distribution of assault rifles at the AFP Headquarters. In front of him is Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin. Photo by Robert Viñas/Malacañang Photo Bureau

MANILA, Philippines – Philippine President Benigno Aquino III criticized China in an interview aired Sunday, August 17, after the Philippines spotted 2 Chinese hydrographic ships in the disputed West Philippine Sea (South China Sea).

In his exclusive interview with TV5, Aquino said the Armed Forces of the Philippines reported seeing these hydrographic ships in the potentially oil-rich Recto (Reed) Bank in the West Philippine Sea.

Aquino pointed out that Recto Bank lies 80 nautical miles from Palawan in the Philippines.

This means it falls within the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone, an area 200 nautical miles from a coastal state’s baselines or edges, within which it has the exclusive rights to exploit sea resources. 

Anong ginagawa nila diyan? Anong studies nila? Sana hindi nagbabadya ‘to ng mas malaki, may dagdag na naman, o panibagong tensyon sa ating dalawa,” Aquino said in his interview with lawyer-columnist Mel Sta Maria.

(What are they doing there? What are their studies? I hope this doesn’t lead to worsened or additional tension between the two of us.)

The sighting of the 2 Chinese vessels came after the Philippines, in July, extended a British company’s permit to conduct oil drilling activities in Recto Bank.

China promptly rejected this as “illegal and invalid.”

The permit allowed Forum Energy, a British firm led by Filipino businessman Manuel Pangilinan, to conduct its oil drilling in Recto Bank until August 15, 2016.

China ‘harassment’ in 2011

Aquino recalled that Recto Bank was already the site of heightened tension between the Philippines and China earlier in his presidency.

In 2011, a year into his term, the Philippines accused Chinese vessels of harassing a Filipino exploration vessel in Recto Bank.

The Philippines and China both show interest in Recto Bank because of its oil potential.

In a report in February 2013, the United States Energy Information Administration said Recto Bank could possibly hold up to 5.4 billion barrels of oil and 55.1 trillion cubic feet of natural gas. (READ: Reed Bank ‘holds huge oil, gas reserves’)

The dispute between the Philippines and China over the West Philippine Sea, however, has delayed the exploration of Recto Bank.

China claims virtually the entire South China Sea, while the Philippines has challenged the Asian giant by filing a historic case over the contested waters.

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

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

Aquino has said he is willing to jointly develop Recto Bank as long as the Philippine claim is respected. –

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Paterno R. Esmaquel II

Paterno R. Esmaquel II is a senior multimedia reporter covering religion for Rappler. He also teaches journalism at the University of Santo Tomas. For story ideas or feedback, email