Energy Secretary Alfonso Cusi said Wednesday it is imperative for the government to lift the moratorium on exploration works in the disputed areas in the South China Sea in order for the possible joint oil and gas exploration deal with China to move forward.

The Philippines and China are negotiating for the exploration deal which Malacañang hopes will be signed during the visit to Manila later this month by Chinese President Xi Jinping.

Former Foreign Affairs Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano had said the Philippines was open to a 60-40 deal, in favor of Manila, should a joint development undertaking pushes through with China.

He previously mentioned that Reed Bank or Recto Bank, which is within the Philippines’ 200-nautical mile exclusive economic zone (EEZ), could be a site for exploration.

The Philippines suspended exploration in the Reed Bank in 2014 as it pursued international arbitration of its maritime dispute with China.

The United Nations-backed Permanent Court of Arbitration in July 2016 invalidated Beijing’s historic claims in the resource-rich waters and spelled out the Philippines’ sovereign rights to access offshore oil and gas fields within its EEZ. China, however, refused to recognize the ruling.

“The issue of the lifting is being taken cared of by the DFA [Department of Foreign Affairs] because of the diplomatic issue. As far as the DOE is concerned, so that we can resume exploration, we need to lift that moratorium,” Cusi said at a news conference in Malacañang.

Cusi said he had discussed the DOE’s position with the DFA “but as I have said, that issue, because of the diplomatic concerns, is best answered by DFA.”

Relations between the Philippines and China have vastly improved under President Rodrigo Duterte, who sought Chinese trade and economic aid while shelving long-running territorial disputes, including the arbitral tribunal case won by Manila in July 2016.

Pending the joint exploration deal, the DOE has been pushing for the exploration of oil and gas resources in non-disputed areas under the DOE’s Philippine Conventional Energy Contracting Program (PCECP).

The DOE identified 14 pre-determined areas (PDAs) for potential petroleum exploration and development activities.

The PDAs include one area in the Cagayan Basin, three in Eastern Palawan, three in Sulu, two in Agusan-Davao, one in Cotabato, and four in Western Luzon.

“[T]hose are off-shores and on-shores and these will be made available come third week of November,” Cusi said.

The DOE said the PCECP is the revised and transparent petroleum service contract awarding mechanism that allows the government to develop and utilize indigenous petroleum resources under a service contract with qualified local and international exploration companies. —KG, GMA News

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