Philippines lifting of moratorium on WPS exploration a "unilateral" move concerning its "economic rights" - Energy chief
The Philippine government's lifting of the suspension of petroleum activities and the resumption of exploration in the West Philippine Sea is its "unilateral" decision that concerns its "economic rights," Energy Secretary Alfonso Cusi said on Friday.
Cusi expressed hope that China would respect the Philippines in exercising its right.
"It's a unilateral action on our part to ask those licensees to start the activities in the West Philippine Sea. This is a unilateral action on our part and there's no prohibition in doing such," he said in a virtual press conference.
Cusi expressed belief that the government's decision has no negative effect on the arbitration award to the Philippines as well as on the memorandum of understanding that Manila and Beijing previously signed for a joint exploration in the disputed South China Sea.
A Hague-based Permanent Court of Arbitration invalidated China's historic and sovereign claim in almost the entire South China Sea, including those areas within the 200 nautical miles exclusive economic zones of the Philippines and other neighboring countries.
Citing China's pronouncement that the South China Sea is "an oasis of peace," Cusi said, "it follows we can do our activity freely as the country that has economic rights (over the area)."
President Rodrigo Duterte has approved the DOE's recommendation to lift the moratorium on petroleum exploration over three service contract areas located in the West Philippine Sea, the name of the Philippines in areas within its EEZ, which is also being claimed by China.
The Aquino administration suspended in 2013 the exploration activities in areas of service contracts 59, 72, and 75 during the height of the territorial dispute with China.
The DOE has awarded the licenses over SC 59 and 72 to the Philippine National Oil Company-Exploration Corp and Forum Ltd., respectively. PXP Energy Corp. is the licensee in SC 75.
Cusi said all the three contract areas are located in the West Philippine Sea.
Asked how sure the government is that China would not oppose the Philippines' exploration in the West Philippine Sea, Cusi said, "I'm sure they will not just take it without raising a word. I'm sure they are going to write us and we will address that as it comes."
But Cusi insisted that the government has to proceed with the lifting of the moratorium since the exploration activities have long been delayed and the Philippines needs to "harness the resources of the West Philippine Sea."
He also said that other foreign companies, including the Chinese, could participate in the exploration provided that they have the licenses issued by the Philippine government.
"They have to have a service contract from us," he said.
In issuing the "Resume-to-Work" notice to the service contractors in three areas in the West Philippine Sea, Cusi cited the urgent need to resume the exploration amid the impending depletion of the natural gas reserve in Malampaya.
He said the contract in Malampya is only up to 2024 but the "reserve will go beyond that, up to 2027 may be or even longer."
Meanwhile, former Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario hailed Duterte's move to lift the suspension of the exploration in the West Philippine Sea.
"The PRRD's (Duterte) lifting of the moratorium on oil exploration in the WPS is, we believe, a constructive move. For as long as we pursue activities with China what is in accordance with Philippine law, this would be a step in the right direction towards a peaceful settlement of dispute," he said. Celerina Monte/DMS