Philippines 'flip-flopping' on joint exploration of South China Sea, says foreign secretary

Philippine Foreign Affairs Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano (right) shakes hands with China's Foreign Minister Wang Yi in Taguig, Metro Manila, Philippines, on July 25, 2017.
Philippine Foreign Affairs Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano (right) shakes hands with China's Foreign Minister Wang Yi in Taguig, Metro Manila, Philippines, on July 25, 2017.PHOTO: REUTERS

MANILA - The Philippines has been "flip-flopping" over joint energy ventures with China in disputed waters of the South China Sea, and needs to push an arrangement that will be consistent with its Constitution, Foreign Secretary Alan Cayetano said on Wednesday (July 26).

"Since 1986, China has been consistent with its stand... We are the ones flip-flopping because of the different administrations and because we had a new Constitution back then," Mr Cayetano told reporters. The new Constitution approved in 1987 after the fall of Ferdinand Marcos spells out the extent of Philippine territories, which covers Reed Bank in the South China Sea.

He said he could not discuss details, as "it's a process and it's still under negotiation".

"But I can give you the parameters. The parameters are simple. Any agreement has to be in conformity with the Constitution and local laws. Any agreement will not give up a single inch of our territorial integrity," he added.

 

Visiting Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said on Tuesday China is open to exploring jointly with the Philippines for oil and gas in the disputed waters. Mr Wang's comments came a day after President Rodrigo Duterte said a partner had been found to develop oil and gas fields inside the Philippines' exclusive economic zone.

Mr Duterte did not say the nationality of the partner but the Philippines had previously been in talks with China oil giant CNOOC over the possibility of joint exploration.

Mr Cayetano said on Wednesday any oil and gas exploration deal would have to lead to gains similar to what the Philippines is getting from Malampaya natural gas field which is a private joint venture with Royal Dutch Shell. This gas field, 80km north-west of Palawan province, holds 2.7 trillion cu ft of natural gas reserves. It supplies 40 per cent of the energy needs of Philippines' main island of Luzon. Production began in 2001.

The Philippines has also been trying to explore for oil and gas in Reed Bank in the South China Sea, but it was forced to suspend activities there over territorial disputes with Beijing.

Reed Bank, about 140km north-west of Palawan province, is thought to have gas reserves of as much as 20 trillion cu ft.

President Duterte's government, taking advantage of warmer ties with China, is seeking to restart exploration at Reed Bank to replace the Malampaya gas field, where supplies are expected to be depleted by 2030.

But experts believe setting up a joint exploration arrangement will be extremely complex and politically sensitive. Both the Philippines and China claim the oil and gas reserves, and a deal on sharing may be seen as legitimising the other side's claim, or giving away sovereign territory.

rdancel@sph.com.sg