- The Philippine government also said on Friday it will resume oil and gas extraction in the disputed waters of the South China Sea.
- The Philippine government also stated that lifting the ban could speed up negotiations with Beijing on energy cooperation projects.
- The lifting of the ban is also due to the continuous reduction of the Philippines' energy reserves.
Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte lifted a ban on oil exploration in the disputed waters of the South China Sea. Energy Secretary Alfonso Cusi looks forward to speeding up negotiations with Beijing on energy cooperation projects. The Philippine government also expects China to allow the Philippines “peacefully” in these waters.
The Philippine government also said on Friday it will resume oil and gas extraction in the disputed waters of the South China Sea. “I believe China will respect our decision,” Secretary Cusi said at the press conference.
The Philippine government also stated that lifting the ban could speed up negotiations with Beijing on energy cooperation projects.
In 2014, following the escalation of the sovereignty dispute between the Philippines and China in the South China waters, the Philippines suspended related drilling activities. These areas are considered to be rich in natural resources.
After Duterte took office as President of the Philippines in 2016, his opposition to Beijing’s claims has slowed down compared to his predecessor. The two countries began negotiations in 2018 to jointly explore this controversial water area.
Energy Secretary Cusi told reporters on Friday, “now that the suspension order has been lifted, I believe this will speed up the progress of the negotiations.” Cusi said that the resumption of exploration and development activities was a “unilateral” decision by the Philippines and had not been known before that.
The lifting of the ban is also due to the continuous reduction of the Philippines’ energy reserves. The Malampaya gas field in the west of the Philippines provides about 40% of the energy for the country’s main island, Luzon, but its natural gas reserves are expected to be exhausted.
Beijing claimed sovereignty over almost the entire South China Sea, but in 2016, the UN-backed International Court of Justice ruled on a lawsuit filed by Benigno Aquino, then President of the Philippines, and rejected China’s claims.
Boost the Country’s Economy
Cusi said that local companies previously involved in three drilling projects near Palawan Province in the western Philippines have been told to resume work. One of the areas currently allowed for exploration is Reed Bank.
Before the suspension order was issued in 2014, the Philippine energy company operating there had complained about harassment by Chinese ships.
Cusi said that the Philippine economy has been severely damaged by the new coronavirus epidemic and the resumption of exploration activities in the area will help the country’s economic recovery.
Since the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic, approximately 350,000 people have been infected in the Philippines and millions have been unemployed. The Minister of Energy said, “the lifting of the (suspend order) will help boost the economy and create investment.”
Although the Philippine government claims that this move will promote cooperation with China, analysts believe that this shows that the Philippines is more active in advocating Sovereignty of the region. Jay Batongbacal, director of the Institute of Ocean Affairs and the Law of the Sea at the University of the Philippines, said:
“This has created some conditions for us to negotiate, showing that we are serious about exercising our legal jurisdiction over these resources.”