THE Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) on Thursday gave assurances of the constitutionality of a planned joint exploration agreement between the Philippines and China in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea).
In a news conference following the DFA’s 2019 national budget hearing, Foreign Secretary Alan Peter S. Cayetano said, “Rest assured that we are working on a legal framework where both countries will be agreeable and would pass the Supreme Court in flying colors.”
He also assured the public that officials are carefully considering and addressing all legal questions regarding the joint exploration, which has raised concern among critics of the Duterte administration’s “too-friendly” stance toward China, but which has gotten qualified support from Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio. In the past, the latter had also warned against Manila’s possibly forfeiting, by inaction, its historic victory in July 2016 at the UN arbitral tribunal against Beijing.
“Those [legal questions] are part of discussions. We have to take them into consideration. That is what makes it tricky. That is why I said we will have a legal framework if both sides will propose provisions that, in effect, will set aside the issue of our claims, so that it will not damage the negotiation,” he added.
The secretary also reiterated the 60-40 split on the joint exploration of natural resources—60 percent for the Philippines and 40 percent for China. “We don’t get the oil and gas in exchange for our sovereignty. We are only discussing economic rights here,” Cayetano said.
According to Cayetano, the joint exploration could happen in six months to one year.
“Exploration is easy because it is just like having an x-ray. We will be able to see what is in there. It can happen in six months to one year. But joint development, that’s the hard part, since it will take four to six years. China will have to accept it [joint agreement] within their laws, Filipinos have to accept it within our laws,” said Cayetano.
He said the two countries have agreed not to set a deadline for the joint exploration.