PH, China members of joint oil exploration committee revealed

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, October 11) — The Philippine officials who will be part of the inter-governmental steering committee that will supervise projects under the joint oil and gas exploration deal with China have been named.

A highly placed source gave CNN Philippines the final list of the steering committee members. The members of the Philippine committee was finalized during their second meeting on Thursday.

For the Philippines' side, Foreign Affairs Undersecretary for Policy Enrique Manalo will lead the team, while Energy Secretary Alfonso Cusi will be the co-vice chair. Energy Assistant Secretary Gerardo G. Erguiza Jr. was named as Cusi's alternate.

The following Philippine officials are also members of the committee: Department of Foreign Affairs Asec. Generoso Calonge, DFA Asec. Meynardo Montealegre, Justice Usec. Emmeline Aglipay-Villar (DOJ), Dennis Arsenio B. Bringas of the National Mapping and Resource Information Authority, and Energy Usec. Donato Marcos.

The Chinese side will be led by Vice Foreign Minister Luo Zhaohui as co-chair and Vice Minister Li Fanrong of the National Energy Administration as co-vice chair. The other members are:

-Hong Liang, Director General of the Department of Boundary and Ocean Affairs, Ministry of Foreign Affairs

-Shen Minjuan, Deputy Director General of the Department of Asian Affairs, Ministry of Foreign Affairs

-Gou Haibo, Counselor of the Department of Treaty and Law, Ministry of Foreign Affairs

-Liang Jinzhe, Deputy Director General of the Office of Foreign Affairs Commission of the CPC Central Committee

-Liu Hong, Deputy Director General of the Department of Oil and Gas, National Energy Administration

Cusi has said that the Philippine delegation is scheduling a meeting with their Chinese counterpart, saying they hope to set the first joint committee meeting this month.

The creation of the steering committee was announced during President Rodrigo Duterte's fifth visit to China in August, where he met with Chinese leader Xi Jinping. It followed the signing of the terms of reference of the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) on cooperation on oil and gas development, which was inked during Xi's state visit to the Philippines in November last year. The MOU states that the two countries agreed to accelerate arrangements for joint exploration in maritime areas in accordance with international law.

Under the terms of reference, which has been seen by CNN Philippines, the committee and working groups will hold a meeting every three months on agreed dates and venues.

Beijing had appointed the state-owned China National Offshore Oil Corporation as its representative in all working groups. The Philippines, on the other hand, will assign the company that has an existing service contract with the government in the areas of joint exploration, which has yet to be determined. If there is no such enterprise, the Philippine National Oil Company - Exploration Corporation will represent the country.

Foreign Affairs Secretary Tedoro "Teddy Boy" Locsin, Jr. earlier said the joint exploration will only be conducted in disputed areas.

The MOU says all negotiations done under the agreement "will be without prejudice to the respective legal positions of both governments."

The Philippines has earlier offered for oil exploration an area in the Recto Bank, also known as the Reed Bank, which China is contesting. The Recto Bank has been eyed as a possible replacement for Malampaya, whose natural gas deposits are expected to run out in ten years. Malampaya accounts for 20 percent of the country's power supply.

China claims the Reed Bank area as part of its territorial waters, but the arbitral ruling, which it rejects, says Reed Bank is part of the Philippines' exclusive economic zone and contentinal shelf, where Manila has exclusive sovereign rights.

The Recto Bank exploration has been put on hold following a 2012 presidential order freezing all exploration activities in disputed areas. It was issued by then President Benigno Aquino III amid rising tensions with China. Duterte is expected to lift the moratorium to make way for the joint exploration.

Duterte earlier drew flak for saying he will "ignore" the ruling "to come up with an economic activity," adding that China has promised to give the Philippines the bigger chunk – 60 percent – of the revenues from the planned joint project. A Philippine law, Presidential Decree No. 87, mandates a 60-4O sharing arrangement in revenues from the exploitation of the country's natural resources, in favor of the Philippines.

CNN Philippines' Dessy Bautista and Eimor Santos contributed to this report.