PH aggressively pursuing joint oil and gas exploration with China

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, February 16) — The Philippines and China will aggressively pursue the joint exploration for oil and gas reserves in disputed waters of the South China Sea, the Foreign Affairs chief said.

The government wants to finalize a legal framework for the joint exploration by the middle of the year, paving the way for critical projects like the Reed Bank soon after.

"I can tell you we are pursuing it aggressively because we need it," Foreign Affairs Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano said in a press briefing on Friday.

"To give you a more reasonable timeframe, [we will have a framework] in the next three months. The President wants it, the Chinese agreed to it, and it's beneficial to the country."

Cayetano said both countries came to an agreement during their bilateral meeting on the South China Sea earlier this week.

The Philippines and China will now separately work on their legal provisions of the exploration, before coming together to create a unified framework.

Foreign Affairs, Energy and Defense officials will draft the framework for the Philippines, with Cayetano quick to assure it would "follow the Constitution and withstand scrutiny from the Supreme Court."

There is historical precedent for the joint oil and gas exploration, Cayetano argued, pointing to the joint seismic study undertaken by Vietnam, China and the Philippines in the South China Sea in 2004. The legality of the deal, though, is still in question at the Supreme Court to this day.

The territorial dispute between the Philippines and China has put on hold attempts at oil exploration, particularly in the Reed Bank. Manny Pangilinan's PXP Energy Corp. holds the rights to drill in that area, but the government issued a moratorium back in 2014 to make way for international arbitration.

Cayetano said, "Once we have the legal framework [for the joint exploration], the Reed Bank project will move swiftly."

"I did promise the Energy Secretary that we would speed things up. Of course, our energy security relies on this."

The government is eyeing Reed Bank as a possible replacement for Malampaya, whose natural gas deposits are expected to run out by 2024. Malampaya, located off the shores of Palawan, accounts for 20% of the country's power supply.