DFA chief: Duterte approves working group for PH-China oil exploration

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, August 7) — The joint exploration deal for oil and gas deposits is drawing one step closer, as the Philippines and China create their respective working groups for it.

In a press briefing Friday, Foreign Affairs Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano said President Rodrigo Duterte approved the creation of a working group to study the legalities of the deal.

"I just got his approval in principle," Cayetano claimed.

He said the group will have experts from government agencies such as the Department of National Defense, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, the Solicitor General, and the Department of Justice, among others.

A legal team is composed of oil and gas experts, constitutional law authorities, and professionals dealing with the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.

"Our job now is to put up a framework that's acceptable to both China and the Philippines, and the first part should be exploration," Cayetano said. He added that they will leave future contract negotiations to the commercial entities.

The foreign affairs chief said China is also ready with its technical working group.

"As soon as both sides send their working group(s), at least we can talk," Cayetano said. "I'm not sure if we can agree, but at least we can start talking."

Cayetano said he will talk with Energy Secretary Alfonso Cusi to discuss which areas they are eyeing for joint exploration, but said they will look into areas with existing service contracts (SC).

"It takes so much time for this. Diba ang  (Isn't the) oil and gas exploration and development is just like building powerplants? There's such a huge time that you need to get this done," he said.

In March, Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque said the areas of Service Contracts (SC) 57 and Service Contract 72 are being considered for the exploration.

READ: PH eyeing 'joint exploration' in 2 S. China Sea areas - Palace

SC 57 is an undisputed area within the Philippines' Exclusive Economic Zone, and lies beyond China's nine-dash line claims in the South China Sea. It is a joint exploration located offshore of Palawan, between state-run PNOC Exploration Corporation, Mitra Energy Ltd., and China's state-owned China National Offshore Oil Company.

Meanwhile, SC 72 refers to the agreement on the Reed Bank off Palawan in 2010. The government awarded exploration rights to an area in Reed Bank to United Kingdom-based oil and gas company Forum Energy Plc. (FEP). The majority of FEP's shares are owned by business tycoon Manny V. Pangilinan.