Duterte considers lifting moratorium on South China Sea explorations

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President Rodrigo Duterte (file photo)

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, November 21) — President Rodrigo Duterte said he may order the lifting of the moratorium on oil exploration projects in the South China Sea.

He said this is a "possibility" following an agreement with China announced during Chinese Premier Li Keqiang's recent visit to Malacañang.

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Under the agreement, the Philippines and China agreed to cooperate and explore oil in the South China Sea.

Duterte said, "It's one of the possbilities that will happen or can happen or will happen sa South China Sea."

However, it's unclear when the moratorium will be lifted.

The Department of Energy issued a moratorium on all exploration and drilling works in Service Contracts 72 and 75 in December 2014 and 2015, respectively, amid rising maritime tension with China.

According to the DOE, London-listed Forum Energy plc holds a 70-percent operating interest in SC 72 or the contract to explore Recto Bank in the South China Sea, where PXP Energy Corp. holds a share of 60.45 percent.

PXP Energy Corp, chaired by businessman Manny V. Pangilinan, also has a direct operating interest of 50 percent in SC 75.

The DOE reiterated in March that the drilling moratorium still holds in the disputed waters and that the decision to lift the moratorium will be based on guidance from the Department of Foreign Affairs.

"I will only lift it when I think the higher interest of the Philippines is served," Duterte said.

A joint statement released on November 16 said both countries "may explore means to cooperate with each other in other possible maritime activities including maritime oil and gas exploration and exploitation, in accordance with the respective national laws and regulations of the two countries and international law including the 1982 UNCLOS."

It added "contentious maritime issues" do not cover the bilateral relationship of the Philippines and China.