Energy Secretary Alfonso Cusi said over the weekend the incoming administration will decide on oil and gas exploration activities in the West Philippine Sea following the termination of joint venture talks with China.
“I would [lift the moratorium], but I guess it’s better left for the next administration for a more holistic approach,” the outgoing energy chief said, referring to the suspension of major service contracts in the West Philippine Sea.
Outgoing Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. announced last week the termination of talks with China for possible joint oil and gas exploration.
The Security, Justice and Peace Cabinet Cluster suspended WPS oil and gas activities in March this year amid tiff with China.
“Among the reasons for the suspension was China’s harassment of the survey vessels hired by our service contractors. At that time, the negotiations with China were also cited as another reason for the suspension,” the Department of Energy said in a statement over the weekend.
The Department of Energy said, however, it firmly asserts the Philippines sovereign rights through the promotion of exploration in the WPS.
“Following the SJPCC’s [Security, Justice and Peace Cabinet Cluster] suspension order and now with the termination of negotiations with China, the DOE, in coordination with the SJPCC for safety and security concerns, continues to pursue talks with existing service contract holders so they can proceed with their work programs,” the DOE said.
The Philippines and China signed in 2018 a memorandum of understanding on cooperation on oil and gas development and designated the DOE as the co-vice chair in the Inter-Governmental Joint Steering Committee.
The IGJSC was established to serve as the official negotiating forum between the two countries on the matter. The DOE said it welcomed the development, as it strongly believes in the value of negotiating with China and other claimant countries such as Vietnam.
The IGJSC convened only once on Oct. 28, 2019, and no agreement was reached during the meeting.
The DOE said it promoted exploration in the WPS through the Philippine Conventional Energy Contracting Program, where it opened areas for application and nomination, reviewed bids and issued licenses.
It also lifted the moratorium on all gas exploration activities in the WPS in October 2020. It said the decision was an exercise in foresight, given the current global energy crisis.
This encouraged service contract holders to restart investments in WPS exploration.
SC 72 and SC 75 contracted survey vessels to carry out exploration activities in Recto Bank.
The DOE said to ensure the safety and security of oil and gas activities in the WPS, it held 11 meetings and briefings with concerned service contractors, maritime law enforcement and security experts in the National Task Force for the West Philippine Sea.