PHL, China preliminary joint energy exploration talks to start in May

THE PHILIPPINES and China will hold preparatory talks in May ahead of further expected discussions on joint oil and gas exploration in the South China Sea, the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) said Tuesday.

In a statement, the DFA said both sides will discuss “parameters and terms of reference” for the proposed joint exploration.

The South China Sea is subject to overlapping territorial claims involving China, Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam. It is a key global shipping route that is believed to be rich in fish and gas.

Senator Francis N. Tolentino, vice-chairman of the senate foreign relations committee, has said the DFA should ensure that agreements with China do not result in more Chinese vessels intruding into Philippine waters.

The DFA replied that Mr. Tolentino will be given updates on the preparatory talks.

The Philippines filed a diplomatic protest in February after accusing China of trying to block a resupply ship at the Second Thomas Shoal in the South China Sea.

Foreign Affairs Secretary Enrique A. Manalo told a House of Representatives hearing last year that China was pushing for a 50-50% or 51-49% division instead of a 60-40 sharing agreement in favor of the Philipines.

He said no agreement was reached because China wanted any disputes to be resolved under Chinese law, which was unacceptable to the Philippines.

In January, President Ferdinand R. Marcos, Jr. and Chinese President Xi Jinping agreed to find a compromise and to peacefully resolve issues in the disputed waters.

The Philippines is eyeing security partnerships with other countries, including a tripartite security pact with Japan and the US. The Philippines is also in talks to include Australia and Japan in planned joint South China Sea patrols with the US.

The Supreme Court in January voided a 2005 oil deal with China and Vietnam on joint exploration, saying it was illegal to allow foreigners to explore for natural resources in Philippine territory without full government supervision.

The Joint Maritime Seismic Undertaking had been signed by the state oil firms of China Vietnam, and the Philippines.

Last month, the Department of Energy said it would work with the Office of the Solicitor General on how the tribunal’s ruling affects resource exploration involving foreign partners.

Energy Secretary Raphael P.M. Lotilla has said that the Philippines and China both agreed to resume talks on exploration in Recto Bank, which is covered by Service Contract 72.

Foreign Affairs Undersecretary Theresa P. Lazaro said on March 24 that Manila and Beijing had agreed that their maritime issues “should be addressed through diplomacy and dialogue and never through coercion and intimidation.” — John Victor D. Ordoñez