Del Rosario: PH need not wait for China on oil, gas exploration
MANILA, Philippines — The Marcos administration should proceed with oil and gas exploration and development in the West Philippine Sea without having to wait to restart joint exploration talks with China, said former Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario.
“At this time of increasing energy prices besetting the lives of our countrymen, political will is needed to enforce our rights over the oil and gas in the West Philippine Sea, so that our country will be able to benefit from new energy sources,” he said in a statement on Sunday.
“The Philippines should proceed to explore and develop the oil and gas in the West Philippine Sea, despite threats and harassment from China,” he added.
Del Rosario said the country can take inspiration from Malaysia and Indonesia which sent drilling ships last year in their respective waters which, like the Philippines’ waters in the West Philippine Sea, are also contested by China.
“Despite warnings and harassment from China, our neighbors proceeded with and completed their drilling,” he noted.
“Thus Malaysia and Indonesia, whose waters are also claimed by China, were able to assert their sovereign rights over their waters, without the benefit of an Unclos [United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea] award and a mutual defense treaty with the US, like the Philippines,” Del Rosario said further.
“We hope to see this political will as President Marcos Jr. will need to find new energy sources to support our country in the coming years and he has to face China to do this,” he stressed.
Call to resume talks
Del Rosario was the foreign secretary during the administration of President Benigno Aquino III, when the country won the landmark 2016 arbitral award under the Unclos which invalidated China’s claims over nearly all of the South China Sea and recognized the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone in the area referred to as the West Philippine Sea.
He urged President Marcos to act, after visiting Chinese diplomat Liu Jianchao told reporters here last week that negotiations should resume on joint development in the West Philippine Sea.
Liu is the minister of the International Liaison Department of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China.
Under the previous administration of President Rodrigo Duterte, the Philippines and China began formal negotiations in 2019 on joint oil and gas exploration and development in the West Philippine Sea.
But the government terminated the talks shortly before Duterte stepped down from office on June 30.
‘Good faith conduct’
When sought for comment, the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) said Liu’s remarks showed “his recognition that there are significant legal issues that must be considered before joint oil and gas exploration can proceed.”
“As it has always been, the department is guided by the Constitution on the exploration, development and utilization of natural resources located within the exclusive economic zone, continental shelf and jurisdiction of the Philippines,” the DFA also said.
During the Duterte administration, Del Rosario did not oppose talks with China but stressed that entering into a joint energy exploration deal should not require the Philippines to give up its legal victory.
Remarking on the Chinese official’s call to continue negotiations for joint energy exploration, Del Rosario said dialogue between nations was “always welcome.”
But he also countered that China should show “good faith conduct” and should “not prevent or harass our countrymen from exploring and developing our natural resources in the West Philippine Sea.”
The “legitimate pathway” for China’s participation in oil and gas exploration, said Del Rosario, is “for China to acknowledge that the natural resources of the West Philippine Sea belong to Filipinos [to] allow Chinese companies to submit to Philippine laws in the exploration and development of [those] resources….”
“Any talk by Philippine officials that will diminish our laws and the rights of Filipinos under the 2016 Unclos award would be treason in the highest order,” he warned.