(Eagle News) — President Rodrigo Duterte has approved the recommendation of the Department of Energy to allow oil and gas exploration in the West Philippine Sea.
Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque said that the Philippine government has also chosen a service contractor to do the oil and gas exploration, and eyeing another firm to do more exploration in the area.
“Inaasahan na magtutuloy ngayon ang paghahanap ng langis at natural gas diyan sa West Philippine Sea. Mayroon po tayong isang service contractor ngayon, at inaasahan po natin na itong service contractor na ito, Forum Limited at saka PXP Energy Corporation ay magtutuloy ng kanilang mga gawain at aktibidades diyan po sa West Philippine Sea,”
The resumption of oil and gas exploration in the country was made possible because of the close relationship between the Philippines and China, he noted.
Roque cited what Energy Secretary Alfonso Cusi had observed.
“Ang sabi naman po ni Secretary Cusi, ito pong paghahanap muli ng mga tanging-yaman sa West Philippine Sea ay posible dahil mayroon nga po tayong napakalapit na pagkakaibigan sa China,” he said.
“At ang sabi nga po ni Secretary, ‘The oasis of peace of the Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs and the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ envision, must also be an oasis of prosperity. For this to happen, the Philippines must restart its economy using the engine of energy resilience and security,'” Roque said.
Cusi thanked President Duterte for approving the recommendation for the resumption of oil and gas exploration in the West Philippine Sea.
The lifting of the ban on oil exploration ban in the West Philippine Sea came after last weekend’s meeting of Foreign Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. and Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi.
But it was the Philippine government which decided to end the moratorium.
“The lifting [of the moratorium] is a unilateral act by the government. It’s a unilateral decision to lift the moratorium that was unilaterally imposed in the previous years,” Cusi said.
“We are trusting China that they will respect our decision, our sovereign decision,” he said.
Cusi saod that the Philippine government did not inform China about the decision on the lifting of oil and gas exploration moratorium in the West Philippine Sea.
In 2015, during the administration of former President Benigno Aquino III, the Philippines restricted oil and gas exploration in the disputed water because of a territorial dispute with China.
There were only three active petroleum-producing fields in the Philippines at the start of the year, namely: Malampaya (gas and condensate) and Galoc (oil) off shore north-west Palawan and Alegria (oil) onshore Cebu.
Two oil fields were decommissioned in 2019, in Nido and Matinloc, also on the Northwest Palawan Shelf.
-PHL-China joint energy project possible-
The Philippine government also said it could fast-track talks with Beijing on a joint energy project.
President Duterte, who took office in 2016, has softened his predecessors’ opposition to Beijing’s claims and in 2018 the two countries began talks to jointly explore the contested waters.
“Now that the moratorium is lifted, I’m sure that will expedite the discussions,” Energy Secretary Alfonso Cusi told reporters Friday.
The lifting of the suspension also comes as the Philippines faces dwindling energy reserves.
Malampaya gas field, which supplies about 40 percent of power to the archipelago’s main island Luzon, is expected to run dry within a few years.
Beijing asserts sovereignty over almost all of the South China Sea, but in 2016 a UN-backed tribunal acting on a case brought by then-Philippine leader Benigno Aquino rejected its claims.
Local companies previously involved in three drilling projects off Palawan province in the western Philippines have been told to resume work, Cusi said.
One of the areas now permitted for exploration is Reed Bank, where Philippine energy companies operating prior to the 2014 moratorium had complained of harrassment from Chinese vessels.
–Boosting PHL economy-
Cusi said the resumption of exploration activities in the region would also help boost the country’s economy, which has been ravaged by the coronavirus pandemic.
Millions have lost work and around 350,000 people have been infected since the outbreak began.
“The lifting (of the suspension) will help prime up our economy,” the energy minister said, adding it would “help in generating investments.”
But despite government claims the move would facilitate cooperation with China, one analyst said it suggested the Philippines was increasingly willing to assert its sovereign rights over the area.
“It creates some leverage on our part to show that we’re serious about exercising our own legitimate jurisdiction over these resources,” said Jay Batongbacal, director of the University of the Philippines’ Institute for Maritime Affairs and Law of the Sea.
(With a report from Agence France-Presse)