Del Rosario: Ignoring EEZ, arbitral ruling for oil exploration with China unconstitutional

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, September 11) — The Philippines does not need to set aside its exclusive economic zone (EEZ) stake and the 2016 arbitral ruling to have a joint oil exploration with China, otherwise it will be “running afoul of the Constitution,” a former official said Wednesday.

“With due respect, we would like to emphasize that the preservation of our national patrimony, which includes our EEZ, is infinitely more valuable than coming up ‘with an economic activity’ in the EEZ. The possibility of economic activity in our EEZ is always present; however, when we lose our EEZ, we lose it forever,” former Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario said in a statement. He reacted to the remarks of President Rodrigo Duterte.

The EEZ is a 200-nautical mile sea zone from the coastline where a country has exclusive rights to explore and use natural resources. The Constitution provides that the EEZ is reserved for the exclusive use and enjoyment of Filipino citizens.

Del Rosario said oil and gas exploration in the West Philippine Sea with China can be constitutional and consistent with the arbitral ruling — which largely favored the Philippines — if the Asian giant participates through a Philippine service contract which provides for a 60-40 split in revenues, with Beijing taking the smaller chunk.

“In this way, the President will also not turn back on his promise to the Filipino people... that he cannot be the ‘sole authorized agent’ to share with the Chinese, our EEZ which belongs exclusively to the Filipino people,” Del Rosario said.

In a media briefing with Malacañang reporters Tuesday night, Duterte said the government will ignore the arbitral ruling on the South China Sea and the EEZ to make way for the joint oil and gas exploration with Beijing.

He said Chinese President Xi Jinping promised to give the Philippines the bigger chunk — 60 percent — of the revenues from the planned exploration. In exchange, China wants the Philippines to "set aside the arbitral ruling."

However, Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro “Teddyboy” Locsin Jr. said on Twitter that China did not require the Philippines to set aside the arbitral award, but both sides agreed to disagree on their claims.

Locsin also said that the joint oil and gas exploration between the two countries will be conducted only in disputed areas.

The Philippines and China signed a memorandum of understanding on a joint oil exploration during Xi’s visit to Manila in November 2018. It states that all negotiations and projects done under the agreement "will be without prejudice to the respective legal positions of both governments."

China and the Philippines have since named members to an inter-governmental steering committee that would supervise the projects.

An international arbitral tribunal constituted under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea and backed by the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague in 2016 invalidated China's sweeping claim to almost the entire South China Sea. It also recognized the Philippines’ sovereign rights in some areas within its EEZ that are claimed by China.

China continues to reject this landmark decision, even though Duterte brought it up with Xi in a bilateral meeting in August.

CNN Philippines Executive Producer and Correspondent Tristan Nodalo contributed to this report.