Lifting of oil exploration ban in West PH Sea a ‘step in the right direction,’ says ex-DFA chief

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, October 18)— A former foreign affairs official sees the lifting of the moratorium on oil and gas exploration in the West Philippine Sea as a “step in the right direction” for the country — as long as activities pursued in the area are in line with local laws.

In a statement sent to CNN Philippines over the weekend, former Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario labeled President Rodrigo Duterte’s decision to lift the suspension as a “constructive” move.

“(Duterte’s) lifting of the moratorium on oil exploration in the (West Philippine Sea) is, we believe, a constructive move,” Del Rosario said.

“For as long as we pursue activities with China that is in accordance with Philippine law, this would be a step in the right direction towards a peaceful settlement of disputes,” he added.

The lifting of the said moratorium— first announced by the Energy Department on Thursday— paves the way for the resumption of drilling activities in the disputed waters as well as the planned joint exploration with China, which meanwhile welcomed the development.

Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Zhao Lijian, in a media briefing in Beijing on Friday, expressed hope that the two parties “will work together for new progress in the joint exploration.”

Senator Risa Hontiveros, for her part, argued that the joint oil exploration with China should only commence once it acknowledges and abides by the 2016 Hague ruling on the South China Sea case, one that recognized the Philippines' sovereign rights in areas within its 200-nautical mile exclusive economic zone.

““Hangga’t hindi kinikilala ng Tsina ang ating tagumpay sa Hague ruling, walang negotiation on joint exploration ang magiging produktibo,” Hontiveros said in a statement on Sunday. “Sa ngayon, dapat patuloy nating igiit na ang Pilipinas lamang ang maaring magsagawa ng exploration sa ating EEZ.”

[Translation: As long as China refuses to acknowledge our victory in the Hague ruling, no negotiation on joint exploration will be productive. For now, let’s push that the Philippines should be the only one to do the exploration in our EEZ.]

China has continuously refused to acknowledge the landmark decision, which it labeled as “illegal and invalid.” Duterte earlier agreed to “set aside” the ruling to pursue cordial relations with the economic powerhouse.