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WATCH | PH studying joint exploration of West Philippine Sea with China

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MANILA, Philippines - Since President Rodrigo Duterte had said that the Philippines is willing to share natural resources with Beijing in contested South China Sea areas, the government is seriously studying the possibility of entering into a joint exploration with China.

For Philippine Ambassador to China Chito Sta. Romana, the idea is timely since the country will be looking for other sources of natural gas.

"The basic challenge here is how to do it, whether with a US company or a British company or a Chinese company, so that you can have a joint venture or a joint development, whatever you want to call it, that is in line our constitutional requirements,” Sta. Romana said.

Experts, however, advised the government to make sure that the Philippines has the upperhand over the control and profits of the joint project because it is within our exclusive economic zone.

Legal reference ppoint a must - Heydarian

In order to pursue this line, the government can use the decision of the Hague arbitral tribunal on the West Philippine Sea favoring the Philippines.

“You have to have a legal reference point that is mutually acceptable for you to move forward. President Duterte will not stay here forever. It is very possible that the next administration will have a very different approach. If you do not have constant consultation and involvement of the stakeholders then any kind of a JMSU arrangement with China will be just ditched by the next administration,” DLSU Professor and geopolitical analyst Richard Heydarian said.

In case the joint exploration pushes through, the Philippines should not just remain silent about China’s militarization of the contested islands.

DFA must speak up - Batongbacal

Prof. Jay Batongbacal, director of UP Institute for Maritime Affairs and Law of the Sea, said: "It is not acceptable for the DFA to just keep quiet and say they cannot do anything. In fact, they can lodge a formal protest. Because without that you could be seen to have legally acquiesced or accepted that China can do anything it wants in the West Philippine Sea."

It would also not help any if the President continues to alienate the country from the US.

“If you do not keep our options open by maintaining relationships with our allies before, if we do not keep our options open for even defending our own waters then in just a few short years then that arbitration decision will become exactly just a piece of paper,” Batongbacal added.

Sta. Romana, however, clarified that “It does not mean that we will give up our position on the disputes and on the issues that were raised, for example, on militarization and so on. We are trying to get away from the use of quiet diplomacy and the use of high-level diplomacy as a form of strategic diplomacy in handling the problems.”

The President can also take advantage of the Philippines’ chairmanship of ASEAN this year to push for the long sought Code of Conduct on the South China Sea.

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