MANILA, Philippines — Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. said he has accepted China’s version of the Terms of Reference (TOR) on joint oil and gas exploration in the West Philippine Sea, calling it “superior to our own.”
On Twitter last Tuesday, Locsin said “everything going well” in negotiations for joint exploration and that the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) which he wrote – and was signed by Manila and Beijing – would serve as “architecture” for future talks on oil exploration.
“There is no one-year deadline for specific project. Just best effort. There is also no deadline on the brilliant oil and gas MOU I wrote & China & PH signed. It is endless,” Locsin said.
“After all I wrote the MOU. It is eternal until either party withdraws,” he said.
His tweet prompted former ambassador to Belgium and head of the Philippine Mission to the European Union (EU) Victoria Bataclan to request to see the draft of the TOR.
“May we please see the draft Sir!” Bataclan asked, also on Twitter, to which Locsin replied “No. And it is not a draft. I accepted it so it is final.”
Energy Secretary Alfonso Cusi said on Friday that the Philippines and China were working to meet a November deadline to form a framework for joint exploration in the West Philippine Sea.
Philippine and Chinese officials signed in November an MOU on joint oil and gas development in the West Philippine Sea.
The MOU was among the 29 agreements signed by Manila and Beijing at the start of Chinese President Xi Jinping’s two-day state visit to the Philippines.
Senate President Vicente Sotto III for his part said it’s not against the law for countries with overlapping exclusive economic zones (EEZs) to negotiate with each other for sharing of resources.
In a speech before the Rotary Club of Manila, Sotto said that based on the “Common Heritage of Mankind” principle, elements regarded as beneficial to humanity as a whole “should not be unilaterally exploited by individual states or their nationals, nor by corporations or other entities, but rather should be exploited under some sort of international arrangement or regime for the benefit of mankind as a whole.”
He said a provision in Presidential Decree 1599 establishing the country’s EEZ states that where “the outer limits of the zone as thus determined overlap the EEZ of an adjacent and neighboring state, the common boundaries shall be determined by agreement with the state concerned or in accordance with pertinent generally recognized principles of international law on delimitation.”
Sotto also cited Article 123, Part 9 of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), asking states with sea borders to cooperate with each other in the exercise of their rights and in the performance of their duties under the Convention.
UNCLOS, Sotto said, also states that countries with overlapping EEZs shall endeavor, directly or through an appropriate regional organization, to coordinate the management, conservation, exploration and exploitation of the living resources of the sea.
“Hence, negotiating with other countries which overlap with our EEZ is not unlawful. Diplomacy is provided in our law in cases of overlapping of EEZ,” Sotto said.
“So, when I said that ‘we should allow China to fish in our waters as long as they allow us to fish within their EEZ,’ I am just reiterating and applying our law, the principle of common heritage of mankind and… UNCLOS,” he said.
Meanwhile, Vice President Leni Robredo urged yesterday the Armed Forces to proceed with its investigation on the reported missile tests of China in the South China Sea.
“If this is true, this is disturbing. We should do something,” Robredo said in her weekly program BiSErbisyong Leni over radio station dzXL. “We need to know whether there was really a test launch.”
The US Department of Defense said China appeared to have tested multiple anti-ship ballistic missiles.
Pentagon said the missile launch was “disturbing” and contrary to Chinese pledges that it would not militarize the strategic waterway.
China has denied the US allegation. But it admitted its forces had held routine drills that involved the firing of live ammunition between the Spratly and Paracel Islands.
Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana earlier said the Philippine government does not have first-hand knowledge on the incident.
“We will conduct our own inquiry and will decide later what to do if proven correct,” Lorenzana said.
“In 2015, the Chinese president I think went to White House and said there was no militarization in the South China Sea. And if proven there was such test launch, it means that there is really militarization and they ate their words,” Robredo said. – With Paolo Romero, Helen Flores