April 5, 2023
MANILA — It’s all systems go for discussions between the Philippines and China on the potentially controversial plan to revive oil and gas exploration discussions as both nations are set to meet in May for “preparatory talks.”
The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) announced on Tuesday that delegates from Manila and Beijing would convene to discuss and clarify the specifics of the contentious agreement involving maritime territories within the Philippines’ 370-kilometer exclusive economic zone.
“The Philippines and China will meet for preparatory talks in Beijing sometime in May. The meeting will discuss parameters and terms of reference,” DFA spokesperson Teresita Daza said in a statement.
Daza said this move is in line with the agreement of both nations to resume oil and gas search talks over the disputed waters, a deal that was sealed by President Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. and Chinese President Xi Jinping during the former’s state visit to Beijing in January.
The plan to revive oil and gas exploratory talks with China has ignited a flurry of diverse reactions from the public, including lawmakers.
Sen. Francis Tolentino, vice chairman of the upper chamber’s foreign relations panel, earlier warned the DFA to take caution in pursuing the agreement, insinuating potential abuse and even an alarming increase in illegal Chinese vessel infiltration within Philippine waters.
But Daza said DFA chief Enrique Manalo has assured Tolentino that “updates would be provided on this matter.”
China has staked its claim in nearly all of the South China Sea, including the West Philippine Sea and its offshore oil and gas deposits and natural fishing grounds.
In 2018, the Philippines and China pledged to explore oil and gas assets in the contested waters jointly.
But the talks were set aside and then-Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. later said the discussions had been terminated due to constitutional limits and sovereignty issues.
He said it was no less than then-President Rodrigo Duterte – Marcos’ predecessor – who made the call to discard the talks.
Under the 1987 Constitution, the State may directly undertake activities concerning exploration, development, and utilization of natural resources like co-production, joint venture, or production-sharing deals only with Filipino citizens, corporations, or associations where Filipinos own at least 60 percent of the capital.