Lifting of oil exploration ban on WPS an exercise of PH sovereign rights — Cusi
MANILA, Philippines — The Philippine government’s lifting of the moratorium on oil and gas exploration in the resource-rich West Philippine Sea is an exercise of the country’s sovereign rights over the disputed territory, Energy Secretary Alfonso Cusi said Monday.
In a televised Palace press briefing, Cusi said that the lifting of the ban does not weaken the country’s position in the maritime dispute.
“This lifting of the moratorium is an exercise of our sovereign rights. Ginagawa na po natin iyan so (there’s) no way it weakens the arbitral decision,” Cusi said.
President Duterte last week lifted the moratorium on oil and gas exploration in the West Philippine Sea which was imposed by the previous administration in 2014 amid rising geopolitical tensions between the Philippines and China.
Beijing claims almost the entire South China Sea, including parts of the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone
An international tribunal in The Hague ruled in 2016 invalidated China’s ambitious nine-dash line feature that virtually owns the entire body of water. However, China has refused to recognize the 2016 ruling by the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA).
Meanwhile, Duterte has chosen to shelve the PCA ruling in exchange for Chinese economic perks to help fund his administration’s infrastructure projects. Ironically, the President described the PCA ruling during this year’s United Nations General Assembly as “beyond compromise.”
Duterte’s pivot to China enabled the signing of a memorandum of understanding (MOU) between Manila and Beijing for a joint oil and gas exploration deal in the West Philippine Sea.
But Cusi said the MOU also did not weaken the country’s position in the dispute.
Duterte’s spokesman Harry Roque also defended the agreement, saying: “Although sovereign rights is define as an exclusive right, that exclusive right may be shared by others. The decision to share it is part of sovereign rights.”
The Energy secretary said discussions between the Philippines and China about a possible joint oil deal are ongoing, although it recently hit a snag due to the coronavirus pandemic.
“In fact, we had meetings late last year kaya lang po naantala ang pagsusulong nito dahil nga po sa pandemic,” Cusi said.
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