SENATOR Risa Hontiveros is cautiously optimistic about reports that President Rodrigo Duterte has lifted the oil exploration moratorium in the West Philippine Sea (WPS).
Despite the welcome development, the senator asserts that joint oil exploration should only begin after China acknowledges and abides by the 2016 Permanent Arbitration Court ruling recognizing the Philippines’ exclusive sovereign rights over its Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) in the WPS.
“Hangga’t hindi kinikilala ng Tsina ang ating tagumpay sa Hague ruling, walang negotiation on joint exploration ang magiging produktibo. Sa ngayon, dapat patuloy nating igiit na ang Pilipinas lamang ang maaaring magsagawa ng exploration sa ating EEZ. The requirements of the Constitution should be met and our sovereign ownership over the resources in our continental shelf must be recognized. Mayaman sa oil at gas reserves ang West Philippine Sea, kaya pilit itong inaagaw,” the senator said.
The WPS, known as the “second Persian Gulf,” is reported to contain as much as 130 billion barrels of oil, which experts say follows Saudi Arabia in terms of wealth of oil reserves. Retired Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio also said in his e-book “South China Sea Dispute” that the WPS may be rich in methanol, a biofuel that could “fuel China’s economy for 130 years.”
“We must not easily grant China access to our seas, not only because of her rejection of the 2016 ruling but also because we need to safeguard money and resources that can get us through this pandemic. Unahin naman natin ang sariling kapakanan ng Pilipinas,” the senator said.
Energy Secretary Alfonso Cusi said that the lifting was done “in good faith” with consideration of the negotiations between the Philippines and China. Hontiveros, however, said that the government should maintain that the Philippines, not China, has exclusive sovereign rights over the Philippines’ EEZ.
“Any admissions and concessions made during negotiations with China would weaken our position in the WPS. We’ve already won legally and diplomatically, and if the government itself cannot stand by this victory, China will only use this against us,” the senator explained.
“Lulugmok sa kahirapan ang napakaraming Pilipino dahil sa pandemya. Ang mga natitirang yaman natin, tulad nitong sa WPS, ay iilan lang sa nagbibigay sa atin ng pag-asa na may mapagkukunan pa tayo ng anumang halaga. Let’s protect what is ours, not give it away,” Hontiveros concluded.